One of my insecurities when I was in my early 20s (and mid 20s) … (and late 20s) was how much I still loved wonder and play. I felt like I was failing at growing up all the way. It was around this time that my path deviated somewhat from the 'normal' trajectory. I didn't, haven't, and have no intention of hitting adult mile markers of home ownership, marriage or children. I'm not inherently opposed to any of those things, but around the time I started petting slugs and stopped pressuring myself to cross of items from the life goal list to show my worth, I started harvesting wonder once more.
Let's go back a bit and start with the slugs. I have resided in only two states, Minnesota and North Dakota. States of cold, hard, long winters and no slugs like the ones I met in Seattle. I was out west for a leadership program that truly gave my life pause when I was at a critical crossroads. I was walking around an island full of lush greenery, impossibly tall trees, and on the ground, these adorable little creatures. Maybe the Midwest has slugs, but in swiftly doing a google search of my mind, I had no recall of any such encounter. I was head over heals in love. It's squishy little body, cute eyes, or antae, or, possibly for all I know about slugs, a fashion choice. Either way I thought (and still think) they are magnificent. I crouched down in pure, unfiltered awe, and I extended my index finger and pet this little sluggies back. Turns out, slugs do not enjoy being pet, valuable lesson. The slug curled into itself, likely certain I was a predator who was for sure going to nom them, but being in love, and not inclined to slug cuisine, I just sat down and watched the slug.
I whispered apologies and reassurances, that had no impact on the slugs process of deciding when it was safe to restart their journey. In their own time though, the sluggie decided all was well and extended once more, moving forward, to where I never learned, but someplace for sure. I didn't know then and can't recall now how much time passed. I didn't have anywhere in particular to be that day and so I just watched. I let wonder be my guide and felt, for the first time in years, my cup of giving be restored back to the brim.
Years back I had been an advocate of adults engaging in play because the research suggests just that, it can be incredibly healing, fulfilling, replenishing, and bottom line, fun. Despite knowing that, I didn't play or, more accurately, I only allowed play that was 'respectably' adult - things like painting or writing. I do love both of those, absolutely, but often they take and give from me. It was different in a way I couldn't name then. I can't fully name it now either. I don't know if I've got the full truth just yet, but, painting and writing feel like things I'm called to do; good for my soul, satisfying to my soul, called to it, but not play. Not like petting slugs.
Play is earnest and unapologetic. Stunned into joyful pause, giggles, and curiosity. Play is outside of time and away from ego. It's kind, innocent, and uninhibited. Play is goodness at its youngest and most pure point in a journey. Even thinking about play fills up my cup, but somehow adulthood is marked by a lack of play. Or a distortion of play to mean engaging in recreational adult activities which is often code for drugs, alcohol, and sex we'd have been wiser to decline. I can't speak for anyone but myself, but I never felt better after "adult" play. Often I felt more empty and/or hung over. hard pass.
One of my favorite things about growing out of my 20s is that I'm less submerged in areas that are peer centric, like school, and ill advised bar scenes of my early 20s era is that I have more space to determine for myself what I value and where I want to prioritize my energy. Play is a big part of my wellness in adulthood, possibly more than it was as a child. I don't mean productive play like writing, but actual play. Like play doh play, peak a boo with my cats play, dress up play, stuffed animal cuddling play -- soul nourishing, wonder harvesting, cup filling play.
I wholeheartedly recommend play for all ages, probably most needed for adults, but often we stop ourselves. We've gotten so out of practice. Maybe we never got into the practice at all - perhaps childhood was spent nurturing others, reading what was never said in the room, and fawning for survival. Whether it's a new or long forgotten skill, I do have a few tips for getting back into a routine of play.
1. Do it alone or with children. Adult egos are a force onto themselves. I've been engaging in earnest play for years and there is a very small group of people I allow to be with me when I'm playful. It's incredibly vulnerable being openly earnest and joyful in the way play facilitates. Setting aside a time for just you to do this can be a way to protect your emotional safety. The other option is to play alongside children, truly brilliant cover, look at you being an attentive adult to those kids. Just be sure you know the kids, and if they're not yours, have consent of their guardians, and like, don't be weird about it. Eventually though, once you've gotten into the habit again, playing alone can allow you deeper freedom, reduction of ego, and the ability to replenish yourself.
2. Choose something you used to love doing as a gateway activity. As a child I loved loose change. Couldn't tell you why. Change just seemed like toys; different sizes, colors, and had so much information on them; dates, varying cleanliness, a wild world onto itself. Somehow my parents tapped into this fascination and every so often I would be bestowed their huge coin jar. I could (and did) spend hours counting it (great practice for adding and currency education), stacking it, finding the oldest and newest coins. I loved it. Every so often if I fall out of the habit of play, I find my way back is best reconnected through locating all my change and counting it.
3. Don't judge your feelings. Especially at the beginning there may be a lot of shame, cringing, embarrassment, uncertainty and other feelings that may come up for you. That's okay. You can feel them, or write them down to process later, but they can just be there. You don't have to fix or solve them. I can't remember the content creator now but someone on TikTok created a tiktok that our goal shouldn't be to kill the parts of us that are cringy but the parts of us that cringes. Weeding that out will take time and taking the courage to vulnerably engage in play is enough for that day. Don't make demands of your emotional labor to process it too! Leave something for the weekend ;)
No matter how you do it I do sincerely hope you find moments to play that harvest the genuine wonder and joy that exists at the most earnest parts of our humanity. Sending light and love my dears <3