The Play’s The Thing

Human beings need play the way they need vitamins.  ~ lionel tiger ~

Spend the day with a typical older person living in even one of the better “senior lifestyle residences” & notice if any semblance of spontaneous, unstructured PLAY is part of his or her experience.

Too often, not much, if any.

The greatest source of playful interaction & connection is typically mealtime, where – if she’s lucky (and the vast majority of residents are women) – she’s part of a regular circle of friends sharing lunch & laughs.  Alas, such “breakfast brigades” & “lunch bunches” are far from the norm & many of the ones that meet every day focus on aches pains problems rather than providing lively & expansive back & forth.  Even the best are haunted by the specter of alteration by debilitation & death.

Typically, the more high-end a senior residence, the more choices there are for playful interaction, from year ’round swimming to fair weather golfing, dancing & bridge & the performing arts (as participant or audience). But how many of residents actually take part in those activities?  And if they want to participate, who helps makes sure they get to & from them?  Personal care in even the best facilities can fall prey to being top quality maintenance rather than continual enrichment, however well-meaning & best-intentioned its goals.

Top of the scale, Ma!   Everyone on the face of the planet needs a steady diet of laughter-lobbing play, play that gets the energies flowing, the heart pitter pattering, that deepens old ties & forges new ones.

I think of a young family who swiped my heart this past spring when I helped with the youngest while their mother finished up her degree work at a local college.  Those children –  & parents & grandparents – breathe play into everything they do, bring a sense of adventure & the unknown into all aspects of their lives.

That family sits atop the high end of my playfulness scale.  Don’t look to me to describe the sorry folks of all ages who slide down the scale to the very end.  My True North purpose is to duplicate/modify best practices, then upgrade, even transform lives.  Think Galileo, Pasteur, the Wright brothers, Robert Goddard – each was considered a crackpot or kook & look at all they accomplished, the paths they opened that others have traveled.  Boys – move over & make room for me.

When I look at that wondrous play-filled family that scampered off with my heart, I see children & parents who know their boundaries, who have chores, who place expectations on each other.  They live work play within a creative structure.  How can we create a structure where older people could value & access more play?

Alas, when people think about play, they tend to limit it to children.  Back in February 2008, the NY Times Magazine’s ran a cover story on play – spinning off a presentation by Stuart Brown & Krista Tippett at the NY Public Library discussing its biological & spiritual roots.  But four months later, in a wildly popular TED talk, Stuart (I like to think of myself as friends awaiting an introduction) pointed out that the cover didn’t show a single adult at play, only children.  They’d missed the point of his work – that play is as needed in adulthood as it is when we are in our single digits, teens, twenties.  In my experience, it is as important as fresh air & good nutrition for a happy, healthy life.

Background – seventeen years ago, I expected that 2017 would find me easing out of my corporate career.  I had an exceptional run & quite a few professional accolades & honors, including 2000 Employee of the Year.  Then, in late summer/early autumn 2001, it became clear the Universe had WAY different plans for me.  But it wasn’t until I crossed paths with Anne Davis Hyatt that I got the first aha about my True North life purpose.

Kent, Anne’s best beloved, died after a stroke, in his late 80s.  She was suddenly solo.  And depressed.   Oh, and been recently diagnosed with dementia.

Anne’s family gathered together, discussed the situation, then checked out best next steps.  Their conclusion – infuse Mom with play activities, with a variety of play mates.  They brought me on for rambles & restaurant runs; Tamar to scoot Anne back to her beloved little hometown for visits with family & friends, pal up with her for weekly painting classes, play the piano & read aloud; and, always, Anne’s children were there for numerous regular weekly visits, after-church Sunday dinner & Sunday supper.

In the 7+ years Anne was our client, I don’t recall a single serious illness, nor a hospitalization.  The healthy dose of social interaction every day played out in a strong spirit housed in a declining body.  She was out & about doing things right up to the day she fell in her apartment.  This was a woman whose dementia had progressed to the point where she could not remember from moment to moment the day let alone the date, but no one – NO ONE – was more primed for the next great FUN moment.  Anne would frame the sunset with her hands, saying, “I don’t remember what they’re called (the sky, clouds, sun, trees & fields), but aren’t they BEAUTIFUL?!”  Imagine if she had been left, as the vast majority of seriously older people are, without an infusion of play into her day?

Play’s the thing!   For now, Anne – like my mother – would be considered an outlier.  Praise be, I have spent my life surrounded by older people whom others would consider similar fabuolous outliers!  My goal is to help turn that around so that the qualities that hallmarked their lives are considered the norm rather than a happy aberration.

Ten years ago, even 7+ years ago when I first started chumming around with Anne, that goal might have seemed unimaginable.  Today, it’s more & more can-do, with remarkable individuals groups organizations coalescing to turn around our current culture’s woeful attitudes around & expectations of aging upward.

It speaks volumes that next week’s International Association for Gerontology & Geriatrics (IAGG) World Congress will, for the first time (!), feature as one of its official venues, The Age Stage.  It’s HUGE, that such an august body recognizes the importance & power of creativity, a cornerstone of play, in aging upward.

The Age Stage is a physical reminder that “the play is the thing.”

Four years ago, I discovered that the National Center for Creative Aging is rooted in the findings of Gene Cohen, a “book mentor” of mine for many years who died far too young in 2009.  So much has changed since the years where Medicare allocated a laughable (not in a good way) $250 a year for mental health. Gene fought to get that increased, fought for oldsters elders ancients to be considered deserving of good mental health, whether a kid of 65 or a 95+ grey head.  Just as most people accept the various ages of life, Gene believed that older age has its own stages – reevaluation, liberation, summation & encore.

I will be thinking of those stages – and reveling at my liberation – throughout the IAGG World Congress, blessed to be who I am with the background I’ve gathered (or been gathered for me), at this age, in this era, at this time, in this place.

Next week, the IAGG will give space & time to showcase the importance of aging creatively.  Give me a little time & watch me win them over to giving play its due!

 

Wednesday – Powerful Play Day

Okay, am rested & revived & ready to talk about a delightfully play-filled day that modeled the sort of typical day I hope every human regularly enjoys.

John & I started out our day breakfasting with older friends at a local senior community to which we’ve developed long, deep ties over the past eight years, then moved onto a local library to pick out videos for a lunch feast & film fest with another older buddy (NOT headed out, even on a walk around the property, ’cause it is miserably hot & massively humid),  set up a movie & left my two guys watching Marilyn Jack Tony while I skedaddled over to Feast & Fancy to pick up the lunch yums, back for the lunch & the 2nd flick, grocery shopping on the way home with a blip to the post office, then left my hubster at home feeding the cats & working on a commission while I high-tailed it to Glencairn for a delightful reception in the cloisters featuring old friends & new pleasant acquaintances followed by a presentation on our local college’s IMPRESSIVE building arts program that features s summer workshops in blacksmithing, stained glass, stone carving & mosaics, home to make a totally YUM dinner, a day capped off with John’s gin & tonic (almost as famous as his coffee) & a couple of Pecan Sandies. Oh, and dashing off a teaser about the day that was so rushed as to include nary a single link nor tag.

It was a day filled with friends & engaging conversation that kept us at Rydal Park LONG past our usual adios time (lots of origin stories batted back & forth), good food (from RP’s Wed sticky buns to F&F’s decadent butterscotch cookies to Morningstar Farms’ bbq riblets with mashed potatoes & a toss of broccoli/cucumbers/roasted beets), great films (can’t beat Some Like It Hot & Swing Time), an unexpected mind soul spirit WOW, dashing off a great pre-planned supper that was super healthy & took all of 20 minutes to make & serve, savored some lovely down time with just the two of us reflecting on how the day hit all the high notes of old & new, fun & practical, a cross-section of ages, a play day for all our senses.

The high part for me was bidding our adieus to our film fest friend & having him playfully beseech us to “Stay!”  said it with a sparkle in his eyes & a lilt in his voice.  Not long ago, it would have come from the depths of a lonely, bed-stranded soul, but he knows we’ll be back tonight for an after-supper visit, we’re slipping in another extra Monday visit next week –  while he was sorry to see us go, more fun times are ahead.

He’s the beneficiary of John (even less a techie than I), having to learn how to play DVDs for the two Wednesdays.  Made my heart flutter, John reminding me he needed to learn the ins & outs of which buttons to press, which order, suggesting we log in extra time with our amigo so that he can master it rather than just try to remember what he thinks I said.  He is an ab fab life & business partner!

The primary reason for going to the event at Glencairn was because a friend – Kenneth Leap – mentioned it yesterday as we exchanged greetings waiting to order at Be Well.  I went for friendship & was blown away by how many aspects of what each of the master craftsman does fits into, embodies what inspires me & imbues my purpose of spreading the gospel of play.  In brief – from Warren (blacksmithing), that you need to strike while the iron is hot; from Claire (mosaic), that many little pieces combine into beautiful images & pictures; from Jens (stone carving), that wondrous things lie within, waiting to be released; from Kenneth (stained glass), that it’s the shading of the materials that brings out the beauty of the piece.

It was a day that modeled the ideal of variety, old friends & new ones in waiting, laughter & knowledge, great tastes & textures, expected pleasures & surprising connections.  Although every moment of it was gratis – we not only didn’t make any money, we paid for our own breakfast & treated to lunch – it’s hard to imagine a better investment of our time & energies.  Paying gigs will come in time, maybe force us to cut back on our Wednesday play dates, so we are taking great care to get as much out of this precious time as possible.  These merry moments will not come again – make the most of them.

These Wednesdays don’t make us any money, but they enrich us beyond description.

When we leave the breakfast table at Rydal Park, all of us rolling out of there feeling lighter in spirit & stronger in our sense that life is good & having friends is great ~ ~ it is priceless.

When we scour through DVDs at the Abington Library, looking for a comedy or drama balanced with a musical, when the friendly faces at return/check out ask how he liked last week’s selections, comments on the day’s selections, connecting connecting their energies with ours around his well being & happiness ~ ~ it is priceless.

When the ladies & Eric a Feast & Fancy spot us walking in, immediately shouting out greetings & setting to work making our Wednesday order – two cheddar & havarti sandwiches on wheat (John) & pumpernickel (mine) with lettuce & tomato, a thick seafood salad on white with lettuce & tomato for our dear amigo, asking about when they can expect to see him back rather than settling for take-out –  their happy, caring energies connecting with ours & are included in the order as we head out the door ~ ~ it is priceless.

When we greet the welcoming staff at our friend’s senior residence, then see his face light up the moment we hove into sight, when we feel his unbridled joy at being able to eat when HE wants, rather than having to stick to a scheduled meal time; when we hear the soft sound of his “yum….” as he bites into his thick seafood sandwich, his satisfaction at getting a bag of potato chips all to himself, his anticipation of the home-made from glorious scratch butterscotch cookies that he KNOWS will cap off the lunch spread – – to experience all that is priceless.

Perhaps it is somewhat lunatic that we spend our own limited resources doing things with & for non-clients, but we don’t do the work to which we have been loud & clear called.  We do it because it has become one of our very favorites forms of play, because we have the Universe has outfitted us (separately & together) to enter into it with all of our separate & conjoined hearts, because we derive as deep abiding pleasure from interchanges exchanges engagement – – because making that our vocation & avocation, paid or gratis, is priceless.

Make Play a Priority – quote du jour

“If we don’t take time to play, we face a joyless life of rigidity, lacking in creativity. The opposite of play isn’t work, but depression. If we’re going to adapt to changing economic and personal circumstances the way that nature armed us to do, then we have to find ourselves having some play time virtually every day.”
Stuart Brown and Christopher  Vaughn 

I could write about all that this shouts to my heart, but it has been a day stuffed from breakfast through lunch & a very long afternoon delighting with an older friend to the joys of watching Some Like It Hot & then Swing Time in his tiny room with him & his tiny pooch because it was way too hot & humid outside to take a drive or even a walk around his senior residence.  We didn’t get home until around 6:00 p.m. – in the joy of experiencing our friend’s delight in the light-hearted films, we completely forgot I meant to get somewhere by 4:00 p.m.  Yes, I blew it, but the only one affected by my missing it was me, whereas our leaving before Fred ended up with Ginger  would have been..  less for our dear friend &, thank you, he has enough less in his life.  As soon as we got home, there was just enough time to put away groceries & then head to the Glencairn Museum for a talk a friend of mine was part of – about Bryn Athyn College’s wondrous summer Building Arts workshops in blacksmithing, mosaics, stained glass & stone carving, a presentation I went because friends were making presentation & which expanding my awareness of the richness of aging upward that I could never have imagined.  Then it was home to make a yummo late dinner for my Keet & a kick back as we just snugged back with one of his delectable gin & tonics, paired with a couple of Pecan Sandies.  Not doing paragraph breaks or links or tags or run it through spell check.  Heading up the wooden hill for a nightie night because the dawn will break all too soon & I like to roll out at what sounds like the early hour of 5:15 a.m. which suits terrible to most & suits me fine.  Will go into more detail tomorrow because it truly was one of the best days of this or any other year. NOT now!

How Did ELSA Become DEEV?

Sigh…  Have received numerous confused inquiries about just who is this Elsa person in Mom’s e-mails?

I am Elsa, Elsa is me.   Elsa Beth Murphy, nee Lockhart.

Backstory – for 20+ years, it was increasing confusing to be in a small town with four, (later FIVE) Elsas, all within 10 years of me.  Growing up, there were just two Elsas – the others lived in Pittsburgh (along with our mutual namesake) & moved here as adults.  The one who lived here was 5+  years younger than I, which was no big deal until our 40s, when age differences tend to go POUF!  What threw a spanner in the works for me was that four of the five – yes, including our regal namesake! – were active in Bryn Athyn Community Theater (B-Act) & I knew that whenever our name was shouted out, they typically did NOT mean me.

It got to be rather spirit squashing.

Praise be, a solution presented itself that worked out perfectly.  I am crazy about doing creativity workshops for all ages.  The children who attended, especially the regulars, were stumped about what to call me.  Mrs. Murphy seemed too formal;  Aunt Elsa just fell flat & plain old Elsa was even worse.  Then Kayla & Nikiah came up with the brilliant idea of calling me Aunt Diva, which all agreed was a grand idea.  Realizing I had the solution to my larger name problem at hand, I discussed it with John, who thought it a bonza idea, tweaked the original suggestion & have been DEEV ever since.  When I first did it, could tell when people had looked up our phone # in the BA phone directory, because they’d say, “You really are serious about this name change, aren’t you?“, having just found us listed under Murphy, John & Deev.

But it can be confusing when people reading Mom’s e-mails see “Elsa” and wonder “WHO?”  ME!

 

Serendipity

In addition to rediscovering a flock of my mother’s e-mail participation in a lively 2000-01 online discussion about issues in our church (beyond a blessing to reconnect with her wisdom), just came across e-mails written after her fall in Alexandria, VA & continuing to & through most of her stay at St. Mary’s/Langhorne, less than thirty minutes from our Philly suburb home.

It is no mere coincidence that they showed up – after over a decade of being “lost” – just before I head out to the International Association of Gerontology & Geriatrics, next week in San Francisco.  Serendipity!

Mom – with an assist from Anne Davis Hyatt & Marie Nice Murphy – is why I am a playfulness coach.  In the midst of her hospitalizations, when things were so wretched my mother broke down into tears, she could look forward to reconnecting  online with an ever-growing circle of friends & family.  She couldn’t go out with me on one of her beloved outs & abouts, but she could indulge in lively banter & a dashing bit of word play.

One e-mail in particular stands out for me as a terrific example of why having an online circle of friends made such a difference to Mom, kept her lively when she felt like death warmed over,  entertained her even when she was flat on her back with a disgusting tube up her nose.  She was talking about a visit she’d had from our pastor, which lead her into talking about his children (particularly his older daughter who as a 3rd grader swiped Mom’s heart), from Tom to his parents – GE & Marcelite – who lived in Pasadena & were friends of my parents & my older sister, which got her into remembering Harold & Jean Cranch & from them to their daughter Margie & then to her daughters Galadriel & Tirah, then onto memories of my three oldest siblings visiting my uncle’s ranch outside Sacramento.

Mom was flat on her back but over the brief time it took to throw together her posting, she’d had all the fun of being back in our little hometown, Pasadena, Princeton (we always took Marcelite to Princeton when she visited Tom & Nina), Uncle Paul’s ranch, PLUS the precious memories of each friend who came to mind.

If thought brings presence, Mom’s hospital room was packed!

I’ve seen the impact of play & personal connection on Mom, on “Aunt” Benita, perhaps most spectacularly on our dear friend, Anne.  Play doesn’t have to cost a cent, offers incredible across-the-board health benefits.  That message HAS to get out there, has to be ballyhooed & championed & spread around the globe.  Especially in the USA, where our appreciation of the power of play across the age spectrum is abysmal compared to MANY other countries.

My work is cut out for me, but am blessed the Universe clued me in that what I wrote as a sweet sentiment in my very first official All Ages, All Stages blog is 100% true – of all the people, past present future, partnered with me in my spreading the gospel of the power of play in reducing the more negative by-products of aging upward, first & foremost is my mother, Katharine Reynolds Lockhart,  MOP**.

** Master of Play

Mom’s Style of PR

My style of PR was doing public relations & marketing for Prudential HealthCare.  Mom’s was quite different – it was PR as in Puerto Rico!

In her late sixties & into her seventies, Mom would go to Bermuda with the wondrous Consuelo (Connie) Rosenquist, who was many years older than Mom.  Mom served as Connie’s strong right arm, making it possible for that remarkable older woman to continue her trips to her beloved island, where she had many friends, who soon too a shine to my mother, too.  The two ladies always had an unforgettable stay & rolled back home mellower than they’d left!

Mom also took bops down to Puerto Rico – her PR – with Gay Pendleton, one of her BFFs. Those two always had a fine time together, whether it was putting their heads together for one of their many Republican Women of PA gigs, shopping for fabric in NYC’s Garment District, or kicking up their heels in San Juan!

The following is  something Mom wrote while hospitalized for an undiagnosed but serious condition, which included partial paralysis, stomach pain, bloating & swollen extremities.   It shows a woman who LIVED every moment of her life, whatever her circumstance or condition, who understood the power of play & made it possible for others to get healthy doses of it, even when she was laid up in the hospital, being endlessly ferried from unit to unit, room to room.

This posting shows Mom is at her most HER, living full throttle.  She dictated the e-mail in her hospital room as I  transcribed to internet for her ever-growing circle of online friends & pleasant acquaintances. Mom writes at the end of expectations “my recuperation should be a full – but leisurely – success,”  but she would bid us her final adieu less than a month later, on 09/14/01.

She was 91.

8/16/01

It interests me what a good looking group of doctors I have seen over the past two and a half weeks.  Even Dr. Cochran’s associate – a female – was what they call easy on the eyes;  she reminded Elsa of Candy Zeigler and she reminded me of Beth Jewell. 

My rehabilitation physician is Dr. Bernal.  Dr. Bernal has classic good looks – tall, dark and handsome.  He is very easy to talk to.  He hails from Puerto Rico.  

Talking to him made me think about visiting Gay and Willard at their winter quarters in Palmas Del Mar.  After Willard’s retirement, they would spend the winter in Puerto Rico (Gay was prone to pneumonia in the cold, moist Pennsylvania winter).  I went down to keep Gay company while Willard came up for the Council of the Clergy meetings.  We would get in a bit of a visit, the three of us, before he headed up to the meetings in Bryn Athyn.  I remember the three of us talking over cocktails, out on the patio, overlooking the ocean.  It felt like I was in a postcard.

Once Willard was gone, Gay and I would cut loose a bit.  I remember one time that we went to a wonderful little French restaurant – the owners and staff really and truly were French – for supper.  We had a marvelous time.  In fact, we had such a good time, Gay invited them all to her place for lunch the next day.  What fun that was, entertaining these very entertaining young people.  Gay was in her element and I was no slouch myself.  It was great fun. 

When Willard got back from the meetings and we told him about our merry adventure, he just looked at Gay, then at me, then back at Gay and said, “I knew as soon as I left you two were going to go wild.”  We did and I only wish we could do it all over again.

I will leave it to Elsa to give you my medical updates, which I understand she posts on KRL’s Family Circus.  Needless to say, with such a dashing doctor who brings up such enjoyable memories, my recuperation should be a full – but leisurely – success. 

Vios con dios – Grammie

FYI  – I am Elsa, Elsa is me.  Deev & Elsa – one & the same!

Meet Mom

As I grow older, it gets clearer to me that  our goal is to be as quietly radical as the Lord was while on this earth.  We need to put our new wine in those new bottles.  We need to expect extraordinary things from ourselves and from our institutions.

 Oh my goodness, sometimes I am unrecognizable, even to my self.     >>KRL<<

This is from an online posting  my mother sent  to a large circle of friends who explored the role of women in our church.  (She dictated, I transcribed to the internet.)  Mom was 90 when she wrote those words.  Over the previous few years, she had stretched herself in ways that she’d left behind when Dad died, 27 years before.  In their partnership, she’d found & developed a strong sense of worth & personal identity, alas tied to Dad.  When he died, at 63, so did her confidence in herself.

Never say never, because she began regaining it half way between her 87th & 88th birthdays.  Through her own courage, grit & determined actions, Mom dug down deep inside herself, found that woman her Pete loved & nurtured, brought her out into the world for all of us to admire & applaud.