If I had to pick the one phrase that my mother used most often it was “go outside and play.” When I was a child in the 60s this did not include toys, it literally meant go outside and create your own experience. Be curious. Be mindful. Learn. There were no timetables, no dinner bells. It was freedom. We were lucky to have a small wooded lot that felt like a giant forest. Behind it was a large open field. The backyard froze naturally in the winter creating an ice skating rink full of bumps that allowed for endless hours of fresh air and exercise.
Later on, being outside all day during the summer meant jumping in the (unheated) pool at 8 a.m. for swim team practice, coming out for 10 minutes every hour for adult swim and leaving the pool when darkness descended. I became one with the water and loved to swim.
During my teenage years, the Glencoe Beach and Lake Michigan became my touchstone. Summer, fall, winter, and spring we always seemed to find our way there. I had to walk about a mile and half to get there and a friend just reminded me that we always walked barefoot, in Levi 501 jeans–no matter how hot it was. I learned to read the water, anticipate storms and appreciate the power of the lake leading to a lifelong appreciation of open water.
As an adult, I stopped playing and stopped being outside. I was busy raising a family, growing career and taking care of the business of running a family. My children played outside but also had much more structured activities and my outside time seemed to be watching them play formal games of baseball, tennis, soccer, basketball, softball, football and lacrosse.
That was until about 10 years ago when I joined a triathlon group that I began to remember the joy of playing outside. To be honest, I was a horrible triathlete, but I enjoyed being outside and relearned how to swim, this time open water swimming with groups of amazing women. Sometimes 10 of us, sometimes just two of us. Sometimes structured and sometimes we just swam to the middle and floated around solving life’s mysteries.
There was one day in particular that I realized I was enjoying playing outside again. I was sitting a the beach with my dear friends Michelle and Ellen after a long swim in the lake, wearing the uniform of my childhood. A wet tanksuit, a sweatshirt and a beach towel around my waist. We were just sitting in the sand. No timetables. Being mindful. Tired but happy.
I moved to Colorado, in part, because playing outside is a big part of life here. From hiking to skiing and snowshoeing, I’m back outside. I’m relearning some things like skiing–just as I relearned to swim. I’m deconstructing what is important to me. I’m learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Mountain lions and avalanches are more real to me now, just as dangerous as the woods as a child, and the lake as a teen. I’m outside playing. I’m curious. I’m mindful and most of all I’m much happier! Last week, with help, I did a headstand in the snow at 11,000 feet altitude wearing snowshoes–laughing all the while.
If nothing else, no matter where you are, remember to play. Inside or out, it is essential to our wellbeing and happiness. Mom was right.