Play is something that I never really participated in as a child. My family jokes that I am lacking in imagination, as I never had any imaginary friends or played pretend or anything. I never colored, drew, or painted. My younger sister (ten years younger than me), upon hearing my mother remark about this a few months ago, looked alarmed and asked, “Is something wrong with you?” (not sarcastically). I never really thought about it that much, because I always had other stuff I was doing. I learned to read at a very young age, and most of my childhood was spent absorbed in a book. For me, this took the place of regular play. I was not interested in toys, and didn’t much like playing with other children. I thought I was happy in my little world of books, but I’m beginning to question that now.

I recently did a group project on play therapy, and it really got me thinking. I read a lot about different types of play that children engage in, and about all the types of materials one can use in play therapy. I realized that I had never really done many of these things, and if I had, had never really enjoyed it. Kids are supposed to like playing. That’s what they do. But I was so serious as a child, my mother has said that I was “born thirty.” I still am quite serious. I wonder whether I didn’t play as a child because I didn’t like it, or because I was afraid to do so. I’m beginning to think it was the latter.

To truly play would have meant that I would have to let my guard down. I would have to let go and submit myself to whatever my imagination came up with. I would not be fully in control, and to me, that is a frightening thought. Thinking about it now, I believe that I felt threatened by play and other creative pursuits like art. In elementary and middle school, I always got points taken off my otherwise perfect assignments for lack of creativity. I just couldn’t allow myself to go there. Even now, I feel uncomfortable when I am around children, because I know I should engage in their play, but I just can’t let go enough to do it. I feel like some sort of grouch who doesn’t like to play with kids, even though I love kids.

The other day, my partner and I decided to make some stuff that she remembered from her childhood: homemade playdough and oobleck. She had spent hours and hours playing with these simple materials as a child. I was not too excited about doing this, but felt I could humor her and go along with it. It turns out that some part of me had been dying to play, probably for many years. As I squished the playdough in my hands (we added lavender oil to make it smell nice and be calming) and oozed the oobleck around, I felt more and more relaxed. I focused only on the feeling of the materials in my hands. My partner asked me several times if I was okay, because I appeared to be in some sort of trance (dissociation). We spent a pretty long time with the playdough and oobleck, and I felt really great afterwards.

I wrote awhile ago about having a feeling of having parts. I don’t know if I do or not, vacillate between the two. But I did feel as though some part of me (whether a dissociated part or not) had been waiting forever to get to play, and was ecstatic to finally be doing it. I’m glad that we did it, and I’m really excited to do more.