The playground swing has a canvas seat and is suspended by thick metal chains. It squeaks and sings in a familiar rhythm. The warmth of my hands holding myself in place releases a memory-filled scent of old iron, rain, and rust. It is a warm, quiet night. And a breeze puffs at my hair; it exhales across my face and arms and legs. My feet are bare. I hold my breath as I swing higher and higher. And for one moment, I am flying – free and far and forever.
I am completely in the present. And yet I am every age I have ever been. In my mind and heart, I swing back and forth in time and place. And I hear myself laughing – both then and now.
It is recess.
More specifically, it is a recess-reclaiming moment in a playground that shall have to remain nameless. Because it is, after all, slightly forbidden: I am here after dark and the grounds are officially closed (which, by the way, is the very best time to properly enjoy a playground, and adds to the overall pleasure of it immensely). And so, with the stars grinning overhead, the moon in cahoots, and the trees whispering conspiratorially, it is a truly brilliant recess.
The whole lovely idea of “reclaiming recess” actually occurred to me in a rather unexpected way. I had been invited to enjoy a new opportunity of dog-learning with a friend’s recently adopted puppy. She (the pup) was teaching me important puppy things while I (in theory) was there to instruct her in the mysterious ways of the human world. The dog was smart and young and still very much in touch with all the wonder and possibilities of life.
The little dog had been admirably quick to grasp the basics of restraint (sit, wait, stay, down, leave it) …. all the hard, against-the-grain kind of stuff. And so it came time to teach her one of the most important commands of all. It’s a command called “free puppy.” And it lets the animal know that it’s their time to be silly at will, to run free-form and flat out, to jump for butterflies and roll on their backs and do whatever else safely captures their fancy.
Whether it involves being with other animals or humans or just by themselves, “free puppy” is an important part of a dog’s life-skills. Often, it’s when they experience the most socialization. Like peaceful conflict resolution. Sharing. Laughing with others. Creativity. Team building. Acceptance. Embracing diversity. It is, I have come to believe, the doggy equivalent of “recess.”
As I watched this little one leap and tumble and revel with joy, an unsettling truth began to creep into my heart. When did I forget how to do recess? Where had I let the art of it slip away and lose significance in my own life?
Even the word itself seems to contain great wisdom and intention. Recess is derived from the Latin term to recede or to return. To return perhaps to a time of restful, restorative joy. To return to an innocent, authentic self. And so I’ve returned to a playground. To a place and time of wonder and possibilities. And I swing under the moon and plot other ways to reclaim my recess.
I suspect I’ll find it in yoga class (where we’re already invited to live in the moment and given permission to play). But rather than practice exercises in control and balance, I’ll imagine I’m engaged in “follow-the-leader” and games of “statue” in the park on a summer evening.
Perhaps, when no one is looking, I’ll skip down my driveway to fetch the mail, and tap dance out under the carport. And I’ll grab an unsuspecting cat and slow-dance barefoot in the kitchen wearing a twirly skirt.
But for the most part, I think, when the stars are just right and the latch is left open, I’ll return to the shadows of an empty old playground with swings and slides and memories. And there – scandalously far into the night and long past my bedtime – I’ll return to and reclaim my recess.