Playground: Gatekeeping

How did you gain entrance to the playgrounds of your childhood?  That may seem a silly question–one just went out a certain door (at school) or down a certain street, through a gate. The point is that for most of us, as children, it was never that simple to gain entrance to the playground.  The playground was the destination we desired–for many reasons. Many of us wanted to “go play,” or to get  out of the classroom, climb a tree (or jungle gym), swing on a swing set or sit under a shade tree and talk with a friend or play a game of jacks.  The playground could be for us (and well-noted, not always was) a place of freedom, of exploration, of creativity, and of pure, old-fashioned fun.  We didn’t know the words, but we knew the experience of a place where stress and anxiety could disappear for a while.

Arriving at the playground most often, though, required that we pass the gatekeeper: a teacher, a parent, grandparent or some other caregiver.  Each of these gatekeepers had the power of allowing us entrance into the field of play. How often did the gatekeeper use the playground to reward us for doing what the gatekeeper wanted, or to punish us for not complying?  So, didn’t we learn, very early in life, that access to the field of play and fun and creativity and relaxation, itself, required some real distortion of who we were and how we were in the world?  We became little politicians doing and saying whatever it took to gain access to what we wanted most.

I can also be generous to those gatekeepers:  they were doing the best they could, often doing what had been done to them.  So, I won’t hold a grudge, but I will try to hold the lesson.  There is still a playground in our lives–perhaps several.  These are the places we go to for fun and relaxation, to be our creative selves and to enjoy time and talk with our friends and loves.  The people around us have their playgrounds, too.  Are we still playing mental games with ourselves, using our playgrounds as rewards and punishments for our own lives?  Have we become our own or someone else’s playground gatekeeper?

The playgrounds of our lives are essential to our humanity, to joy and generosity in our lives.  The playgrounds need no gatekeepers–just human beings willing to go and enjoy the space.  Go find one of your playgrounds today, and enjoy.

Bob Patrick

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