I'm on a date. Seems good. We're at a restaurant, sharing Greek tapas. I'm dressed appropriately. Not whored up, because in my late 30s, I know better. Not matronly, because as a single lady, I know better. I've got that "can still pass for something desirable but not embarrassing herself" kind of attire.
My date is smiley. I'm smiley. We're enjoying each other's company.
Then, I go and say something like, "Today, in class, I had a few extra minutes with the kids, so I started acting out scenes from the book we're reading- The Giver- but I acted it out as a cat. You know, 'Meow, meow, freezing and sledding down a hill, meow! Christmas lights! Meow dying?' And then they started acting out cat scenes, too."
My date shakes his head. "I don't know about you, Maret."
Oh, man. I've heard this before. Many times. In fact, if you and I have ever dated, you've probably said it to me. But perhaps it was, "I don't know about you, Bridget Hengen." Or, "What am I going to do with you, Bridget Bauer?" No matter what you called me, I know what it meant. I know what it means.
I exposed you to the playground in my head.
Not everyone is comfortable playing in there. Some prefer to stay in their car, with the window cracked so they can hear what I'm saying. Sunglasses on and hat pulled down over their brows so as to not be recognized by more respectable acquaintances, but still wanting to observe my playground antics. Some hop out of their cars, but lean against the chain link fence, unwilling to play but wanting a closer look. Some have stood on the swing and really picked up some momentum as I hung from the monkey bars by my legs, reciting Wham lyrics at the top of my lungs.
I'm always in the playground. I climb the slide, barefooted for a better grip, and etch funny names into the roof of the metal dome: Grumpus Mc Crabbyputty. Pat McCooter. Albert Puhols. This is where I record the things that make me laugh.
Slide down the slide with squeaking skin on metal and run across the blacktop to the large oak tree and you can see where I etch all of the things I think about. "What if we still used our belly buttons to eat?" "What if, for a greeting, we got real close and touched our eyelashes, batting them quickly together, instead of shaking hands?" "Weird. Guys show their nipples in the summer and it's culturally okay. No milk is meant to come out of them. They're just...pinkish disks right there on their chests. Man nipples. Weird." The tree is wide. Like, a block-wide. And my questions and thoughts are scratched into its smooth surface. I like to walk around it and run my fingers over the indented letters. It feels good.
Lay yourself flat on the ground and roll. Eventually you'll come to a hill. Tuck your arms in and close your eyes while continuing to roll faster and faster. Let yourself get dizzy and if you feel like laughing, do so. This is my hill of giggles and you can run up it and roll yourself back down as many times as you like. Only a few of you have rolled down it with me. Some of you have watched me, and smiled. Appreciated how happy I can be. Some of you have decided, at the moment of watching me gather grass on my clothes, that I just wasn't the girl for you. That's okay. There's no need to watch someone have so much fun if you'd rather be doing something else. No hard feelings.
It's true that I get up and go to work everyday. I pay bills and put gas in my car. I participate in staff meetings and know how to behave like a mature adult. I'm in bed by 10 each night, including weekends. I've given talks to large groups of adults and they see me as one of their own. This is all true. But, at the same time, my playground is active. I'm there, too.
And if you spend enough time with me, I'll invite you in. Or at least give you a glimpse of what I'm doing there. Some of you will want to play, but will be too afraid that something bad will happen to your briefcase if you set it down long enough to play. Some of you might have forgotten how to play. Some of you might have never learned, and think it's too late now. For some of you, you'll have so much fun that I'll have to urge you to go home when the sun starts to set and the cicadas begin screaming. You'll not want to miss dinner, and I'll have to remind you of this.
Either way, this is where I'll come to play long into my 70s, my 80s, my 90s, if I'm lucky. Olly olly oxen free! Ready or not, here I come! It's here that I can lie on my back and look up at the night sky, letting the warm summer air blow strands of hair across my cheeks and tickle my skin. It's here that I can run until my lungs burn and fall to the ground laughing. It's here where all things life and living are loved and where I thank God for giving me a brain that dances with possibilities and wonder.
"What am I going to do with you, Maret?" You're going to enter the playground and play. Or watch from the fence post. Or sit in the safety of your car, taking a peek from your car window. Or put your car into drive, undo the emergency break, and drive away. Perhaps you'll take a look at me in your rear view mirror. Perhaps you won't.
It's up to you.