Sometimes it’s easy to be myself…

…sometimes I find it’s better to be somebody else.*

When my older daughter was about three or so, she’d wake up and get dressed in either one of two outfits: a tutu or a princess dress. Whichever outfit she chose, she’d wear all day, wherever we went.

Grocery store trips took forever because every nice grandma-type lady would stop us to say, “Oh how beautiful! Did you have ballet class today, sweetie?”

Of course Suzie would look blankly at the nice ladies, “No,” she’d say, and then after they left, “Why did they ask me that mommy?”

Exactly. I understood Suzie’s confusion. After all, why did she need a reason to get dressed up in her favorite costume? She was just expressing who she was on that particular day. Wasn’t that reason enough?

Watching her get dressed in the morning, I confess I was always a tiny bit envious. Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, if I (as an adult) could express myself like that? How much fun would it be if I could wear a costume whenever I wanted!?

I think that’s one of the reasons Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. I suspect it’s probably the only day of the whole entire year when I actually could wear a tutu to Whole Foods and not look like a complete nutcase (Well, maybe. At least people would understand why I was dressed up).

Speaking of tutus… my family and I went to a Halloween costume party Friday night as the vampire cast of The Nutcracker.

(clockwise from left) vampire Herr Drosselmeyer, vampire Sugar Plum Fairy, vampire Rat Queen, vampire Clara and (of course) vampire Nutcracker

We were pretty proud of our theme; if nothing else it cracked the four of us up every time we talked about it. My husband and I died laughing each time we looked at each other in our costumes.

Besides having fun with my family, I discovered that I also enjoyed the time off from being ‘Jaime’ for a little while. I’d been in a really rotten mood for about a week and I just couldn’t snap out of it. Truth be told, I was getting more than a little tired of being inside my own head.

Enter vampire Sugar Plum Fairy. For a few hours I got to be her—proper, sweet, beautiful ballerina on the outside/wild, sexy, scary vampire (complete with fangs!) on the inside. (For those of you who know me very well, I invite you not to analyze that costume description too closely!)

People reacted differently to vampire Sugar Plum Fairy than they would to Jaime. I scared more than a few small children with my ‘surprise’ fangs, and even one grown man. Yeah, it was a good night.

By the time the night was over and I took off the tutu and the fangs, I was feeling much happier than I had in days. Even better, I was ready to be Jaime again–and, finally, ready to take myself and my ‘problems’ much less seriously.

Reason number 8 million why I love my husband... he actually went along with this! :)

It’s a shame we adults don’t get more opportunities like this to just play at being someone else for a little while. Sometimes it’s good to take a break, to force yourself into a different perspective, a different outlook on life. You never know what (or who!) you might discover.

*(Note to self: I seriously need to stop my obsessive quoting of DMB songs…  ah, but sometimes it’s just so appropriate! Plus it all fits so nicely into my grand theory on the meanings of life, love and happiness…)

© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2011

What I ‘discovered in play’ this summer

to my friends

Ah, summer is nearly over and school is about to start. No more lazy days and late sunsets and playing outside after dark… because we’ve all got places to be in the morning.

Right now–because I’m a parent, and because I work for an education nonprofit that takes the summers off from classes–this shift from slow summer do-nothing days to the fast-paced go-go-go of fall is still very much the rhythm of my life.

And, while I’ll admit to having a harder time with transitions than many of the four-year-olds I know, these last liminal days between seasons–when we’re neither here nor there in our lives, but just waiting–are always, somehow, some of my favorite.

So in honor of this bittersweet feeling, here is my list of

Things I Discovered in Play This Summer:

It was an awesome summer, by the way. One of my favorites.

1) Rainer Marie Rilke. How is it that I never read Rilke before this summer? Maybe I just wasn’t ready.

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. The answers cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually find yourself experiencing the answer.” -Rilke

If you read Rilke, start with his letters. His language is beautiful and his words and wisdom are so true, and often painfully hard won. I connected with some of his lines in such a tactile way, I wanted to pull the words right off the page and squish them up in my hands like clay, to fully impress them into my body.*

I understand he is also quite the amazing poet.

*I reeeeaaaallly love words. Your reading experience may vary. ;)

2) Ralph Eugene Meatyard. An amazing photographer. I discovered his works during an all-day (adult) play date at the Art Institute of Chicago. An optometrist working in Lexington, Kentucky–who originally took up photography as a hobby, like many parents do, to take photos of his children–his works are surreal, literary, personal and so far ahead of his time. The way he uses tropes like masks and dolls and children… to my mind, his photos should be creepy. But they’re not. They’re oddly beautiful. Just magic.

In this New York Magazine review, published back in 2005, Meatyard’s friend, poet-scholar Guy Davenport calls Meatyard’s photographs, “short stories that have never been written.” Mmmmm. So good.

3) Play is whatever you make it. Just be sure you take the time to make it. I kind of lost myself in my first few overwhelming, sleepless years of motherhood. Anything I might have wanted (even a few quiet minutes alone) seemed to pale in comparison to the awesome and very real responsibility of growing, feeding and nurturing another human being. But these days I’m definitely getting myself–and my sense of play–back. This summer was a lot about that. There are certain things in life that make me smile just thinking about them. So now I make the time to do them. I know, in the long run, this makes me a happier person–which has to then make me a better parent.

4) I have some really wonderful, beautiful (and yes, fun!) people in my life–friends–who hear me and ‘get’ me and know me and understand me, people who have experienced me at my best and my worst and still love me anyway. That’s pretty amazing.

5) Possibly, I know all the words to just about every Dave Matthews Band song ever written, AND I can successfully use them in both casual conversation and as formal literary references. (How’s that for hardcore!?) Also I’m pretty much convinced, the meanings of life, love and happiness can all be described by remembering the lyrics to DMB songs.

6) Hot saki is just generally a bad idea… But picnics (with Stravinsky, at Ravinia) are very, very good. People make both ice cream and margaritas out of my favorite fruit, the avocado. Orange Fanta, toasted pb&j and Waffle House egg sandwiches (with pickles!) are all just as goood as I remembered. There is such a thing as frozen mango kefir–and it is divine! And I NEED my very own deluxe built-in cappuccino maker in my kitchen. I just… need one.

Starfruit Cafe frozen kefir stand at DMB Caravan Chicago

7) (Mindfully) playing through your worries and problems can help you ‘grow up’ in a lot of ways, even if you’re already a grown-up. And it’s more fun than therapy.

So friends, what did you discover in play this summer? I hope it was wonderful.

Here’s to many more discoveries for us all, many opportunities to follow your passions, only the best in life–and, wherever and however you find it, much much happiness.

© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2011

Bring that beat back to me again…

I recently got back from an amazing vacation, visiting a wonderful, playful, up-for-anything friend and seeing my most favorite band in the world (Dave Matthews Band ♥love them!♥).

I went completely on my own–no kids, no husband–and it was beautiful. For five days I got to play, play, play and do exactly what I wanted to do. As a mom of young children, I can assure you, this never happens (although my husband might beg to differ).

It was a trip filled with so many new experiences for me. When I got home, I admit I was a little sad to be returning to my normal, predictable, responsible life. I truly love my life, and I love my family, but it was such a refreshing break to be just Jaime for a short time–in as pure and powerful and unadulterated a form as possible.

I think everybody needs this kind of reconnection to self every once in awhile. There are lots of ways to get there, but the way I do it–the way I get back to my essence and remember who I am, really–is through play.

And, the more I think about it, the more I realize a large part of my need for play as an adult is to fill a craving for new experiences. When we’re kids, everything is new; everything is an adventure. Sometimes as adults, if we’re not careful, life starts to get a little too routine. We lose that wondrous, innocent feeling of experiencing everything through fresh eyes. But we don’t have to…

The experience of my transformative trip inspired me to make a list of all the ways I loved to play as a kid… and the ways I love to play today, as an adult:

The ways I played as a kid:

    • Go exploring in nature (my family had a dairy farm; I’d spend all day roaming around the pastures and woods, naming and mapping out landmarks and having adventures)
    • Ride my bike
    • Play with my animals (at various times: cats, dogs, a goat, ducks, chickens, a calf, box turtles and tadpoles I’d caught, etc.)
    • Draw
    • Play dress-up
    • Pretend
    • Make up stories
    • Daydream
    • Dance and sing, listen to music
    • Make movies, take photos, write stories, pretend to be a reporter
    • Read
    • Bake (actual edible) cakes and cupcakes… and also mimosa-leaf soup and roly poly mud-cakes
    • Climb trees
    • Build forts (in the cedar tree in my mom’s yard, between the hay bales at the farm, in that old oak with the nails in the bark…)
    • Play in the rain/mud/creek

This is me playing today... at DMB Caravan with Susan. I swear I have not been happier in ages!

The ways I play as an adult:

    • Go exploring in nature; explore my neighborhood
    • Travel
    • Ride my bike/run
    • Play with my kids (it’s a good excuse to slip in the occasional game of hide-and-seek or tag)
    • Play dress-up (although now, unlike when I was a kid, I usually have somewhere to go after I get all dressed!)
    • Pretend/make up stories/daydream (aka “I’m a writer”)
    • Dance and sing, listen to music (at home, at concerts, in my head, all the time)
    • Write/blog/think about interesting ideas
    • Take photos
    • Read
    • Cook, enjoy, try new foods
    • Good conversation and laughter with friends
    • Climb trees, play in the rain/mud (yeah, sometimes!)

So… what about you? How did you play as a kid?  How do you play now? See any similarities? Feeling the urge to dive back into some forgotten passions? Listen to this and think about it a bit, then I wanna hear all about it!

“Scream and shout it loud, oh innocence! In the days when all we did would never end. …Bring that beat back to me again…”

© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2011