I’m reluctantly starting my yoga on a Monday morning, after a scrambled weekend of mostly work and a bit of social interaction — but one with no yoga and no meditation — and I’m struggling with my motivation. Even though I know what I need more than anything is to take my time on the mat, what I really want more than anything is to disappear into a decadently rich cup of coffee. The go-go-go! wheels are spinning, the (second) deadline for my taxes is looming (people like me are the reason there is no such thing as an additional extension), the music for tonight’s symphony rehearsal is glaring at me from its perch on my music stand, and the stack on my desk is looking less and less like an efficient sorting of to-tend-to and more and more like a very precarious leaning tower of Pisa. And so, knowing it will make the impending chaos more manageable, I plant myself on the mat.
I’m listening to the high, airy, and annoyingly new-age voice of the woman on my yoga app — which I use because I don’t have nearly enough discipline to actually do the poses on my own (never mind hold them for more than a half a second), because it is nice to not have to actually think prior to that cup of coffee, and because in spite of her voice, I like the different practices it offers — and I am trying to get grounded. She tells me to breathe deeply through my nose and to listen only to my body for the next 30 minutes, but Maisie has plopped herself right in front of my crossed legs, her nose up to my chin, a little whimper of barely contained excitement escaping as she tries to lure me away from the mat. I kiss the top of her head and go back to my breath and she wanders off in search of her toy.
While I am listening to Miss Enlightenment tell me to enjoy this deep stretch that, quite frankly, I can’t do half as deeply as she is demonstrating nor, apparently, with one tenth as much enjoyment, I can also hear Maisie behind me with her Tizzi Toy, the world’s greatest dog toy. It is her only toy (does that make us stingy dog parents?) but she loves it and she is going to town on it, lying on her back just behind me on the mat, front paws holding the toy to her mouth, her teeth audibly scraping and gnawing on the Tizzi, which makes a dull thud each time she drops it on the floor. Remarkably, I find these noises far less grating than Miss Enlightenment’s voice, which is having the exact opposite effect of what I’m sure she intended. When I am forehead to the mat in child’s pose, I feel the Tizzi land on my back and I get a little massage as Maisie continues to chew it, until it lands on my open palm, her saliva mixed with the grit and dust from the floor I really need to sweep. I can’t help but giggle.
Maisie continues to position herself and the Tizzi at strategic points and times during my yoga routine, letting me know she would like me to step away from the mat and join in. By far, Maisie’s favorite game with the toy is tug-o-war. Henry was true to his retriever roots and would play fetch until he could barely walk but Maisie is the most interested in her Tizzi when there is someone there to try and take it from her. If I walk away, she drops it, if I try to pick it up, she pounces on it. I know there are some rules about how to “properly” play tug-o-war with a dog, and I swear, I’m going to put them into practice, if only to get her to stop tugging at the damn leash. But when there is no one around or willing to play with her, she will entertain herself at length with the Tizzi and often ends up sleeping on it when she is done, in spite of its decided uncuddliness.
I’m not very good at playing tug-o-war with Maisie. The blue Tizzi doesn’t hold nearly as much fascination for me and, to be honest, I get a little bored after a while so our games don’t last very long. All of which leaves me feeling pretty guilty. I have googled “games to play with your dog” and like so many other things, I plan on doing them…soon. So many of the games are really more ways to train her, which doesn’t seem like work to her, I know, but which sometimes feel like more opportunities for me to teach her the wrong thing, more steps I need to remember in order to do it correctly, and I’m not really sure there is any more room in my addled brain.
Some days I take the lazy way out and we just go to the dog park. She loves to run, she loves to chase the ball when I throw it (even though she rarely brings it back), she loves to try and catch a ball bounced high (and sometimes she actually succeeds) and I love watching her. It is far easier for me to keep throwing that ball than play tug-o-war with the Tizzi, though I’m not really sure why. But she gets her sprinting in, wears herself out, and I get to watch her fly like the wind around that park — truly, one of my favorite things in life is watching that little dog run — all while getting to feel a little less guilty about not spending all day, every day playing with her.
As is so often the case, Maisie is revealing things to me about my own life. Watching her throw that Tizzi around, shoving it in my face when I’m desperately trying to stay focused on my yoga, I cannot help but consider how much play there is in my own life, or to be more accurate, how little play there is. Somewhere along the line, I got the idea that, surely, someone who is as busy and active as me must have a lot of play in her life. But when I sat down to write this post, I came up with one thing that I do that I could consider play — one thing! — and that is bowling. I had to come to the conclusion that my life is sorely wanting in the play arena. It was actually quite a depressing realization.
This realization was not just depressing; it was also a bit of a surprise to me and I became curious about the nature of play, so of course, I googled it. (Honestly, what did I do the first 36 years of my life without an internet connection?) Of the ten entries on the first page of “how to play,” two were about how to play something on the guitar (thanks, got it), five were about how to play the lottery (really?), one was about something I’ve heard of called Minecraft (it’s an online game, right?), another was about gaming in general, and the last one was a comic from The Oatmeal, really the only one I found of any use because at least it made me laugh as well as giving me one more reason not to fly.
Going through this brief process, taking an inventory of how play is incorporated in my life, I had to face up to how much spare time gets drained by the laptop. And so I returned to that question about the internet and reframed it with more sincerity. Honestly, what did I do before the internet, before a high-speed connection came into my life, less than a decade ago? I gave up television entirely in the mid-90s and so, of course, I have this (false) impression that I am not a slave to the lure of the screen. Thinking about play, about how it has slowly disappeared from my life, is making me see how much pull that screen has, how much time can get sucked down the internet hole.
And so it’s a bit of a double whammy, this question: what did I do before I allowed my life to be so tied up on the internet and why does the internet have such a pull, for so many of us? What I thought would be a quick and light-hearted post has turned into kind of a long, not-so-pretty look in the mirror. But I think it’s an important look, so rather than try and cover it in one week’s post, I’m going to continue this exploration in at least one more post, a play time, part two, if you will. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to grab a photo of Maisie in mid-air as she leaps for the tennis ball for the next one. We were so close this first go-round.
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So, my dear readers, what are your thoughts on what it means to play as an adult? How do you find time for something other than work and responsibilities, and what, exactly, does your Tizzi Toy look like? I always love to hear from you, so feel free to share in the comments section below. (And then, for the love of all that is holy, get off the computer and go outside and play!)