Something it is easy to forget, especially if we’re not around kids much, is that each of us had to learn to eat. And the way small humans learn is through play. Have you ever seen a baby eating? It’s a messy, fun business. Stuff gets smooshed everywhere – it is fondled, mashed, rubbed and slopped. It is tasted, spat out, tasted again, smeared around a bit, licked up and ‘shared’ with anyone/thing nearby. It is generally played with. If you compare the volume of food kids go through with the volume they actually consume, you will see a very big difference. We all have a baby photo of ourselves with a vegemite beard or an upturned bowl of spaghetti as a hat. We all learned to eat by playing with our food.
Sadly, at some point along the way, this behaviour becomes unacceptable. “Don’t play with your food!” becomes a common refrain – we have to sit still and eat up and suddenly become serious at mealtimes. Part of this is practical – when it’s getting towards 8pm on a weeknight and my daughter is walking carrot stick legs around her plate, dancing them in and out of a tomato sauce lake, trying to avoid the broccoli-gator… well, I confess, I have been known to demand she “JUST EAT IT!!” However, another part of this change is the process of ‘growing up’, where the expectation seems to be that the older we get, the less fun things should be.
This unspoken social rule is, I think, just dumb.
I have heaps of fun playing with food, as today’s photo proves, but it occurred to me recently that most of the childish fun I have is when I’m around children. Why should it be that way? What is it about ‘growing up’ that makes us embarrassed to have fun? I don’t have the answer. Luckily enough, I don’t have much shame either. So I decided to start having fun again.
I took myself to the beach a few weeks ago. Usually I would sit on the sand and just let the view and the sound of the waves relax me, but this time I thought “ Bugger it. I’m going to have a swim.” Summer hasn’t quite arrived in Melbourne yet, but I was lucky enough to catch a bright, clear day. The sun and sand were hot. The water was not. It still carried the chill of the Antarctic winter, but I didn’t care. I waded in up to my neck and bobbed around, happy as a clam. After a bit, when my extremities were nicely numbed, I paddled in and sat on the sand in the shallower, slightly warmer, water – still up to my neck – and let the ocean rock me. The beach I was at is categorically not a surf beach. The ‘waves’ – if you could call them that – don’t break, or even crest. The water just swells and dips in wide, restless wrinkles. It is lovely.
So I sat on the sand and swayed with the ocean, letting it wobble me around until – I kid you not – I was laughing out loud. The occasional jogger trotting past probably thought I was a madwoman, cackling at the sea. But it was just so much fun! And had I been 20 years younger, it would have been seen as perfectly normal behaviour.
I didn’t get out for some time, and it wasn’t until I stood up that I realised my teeth were chattering. Actually chattering. So I ran up the sand, wrapped a towel around my shoulders and threw myself down on the blanket. I was going to make a sandcastle, but instead I fell asleep. I guess I’m not as young as I used to be.
Since then I’ve made an effort to enjoy things in a more childlike way. I’ve been in those spinny, twirly machine things in playgrounds, the ones that make kids actually spew (we used to call them ‘sick machines’, I don’t know the official name, but wow… crazy fun!). I’ve had my face painted. I’ve been so engrossed in a game or story that I’ve missed the bus stop. I sing Disney songs out loud to myself and instead of walking, I sometimes skip. The more I relax into these kinds of things, the more natural it becomes. I would highly recommend diving right into your second (or third) childhood. Life is short, it might as well be fun. So grab a kite. Play with lego. Laugh at farts. And above all, PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD!!