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What happened to Go Play?

Blog Post Disclaimer: These are the sentiments of a tired pregnant mother with two children in defiant stages. They do not reflect every day of our lives. But they do reflect today.

There is a bucket of clean laundry in almost every room of my house, waiting to be folded. Kids' clothes in the kids's room, adult clothes in my room, dish towels in the kitchen, and a load of diapers in the washer that should have been moved to the dryer 20 minutes ago. I had a thought this morning while I sat on the floor of the Discovery Museum going on the third hour. Well, after I cursed myself for forgetting my knitting, and then for not owning a smart phone, my internal monologue came up with this seemingly sweeping statement:

Something has gone significantly wrong in the evolution of play.

Play, the researchers tell us, is how children learn to do everything. It also served a vital function in the pioneer or even the hunter-gatherer household. If children are happily playing, I posit, it means they are somewhere other than underfoot. Adults are therefore free to do the work that allows them and their progeny to survive. Work like gathering the raw inputs of food and turning them into edible nourishment. Work like maintaining the shelter and addressing needs of basic hygiene. You know, housework and crap. Those things need to get done if the children are to continue living.

And yet, here I am on the floor of the Discovery Museum (because there are no adult chairs, thank you heartless museum designers) and I'm here all the useful hours of the day, away from the laundry that must be folded and the food that must be cooked. I am doing nothing but watching my children play. Why? Because some theoretical meteor has pushed us out of our ancestral equilibrium. Now children's play is a thing that must be fostered, curated, and supervised by actively involved adults.

We have adapted to support the adaptation, rather than letting is support us.

What went wrong?

I may be waxing armchair evolutionary biologist here because I'm reading this book on the history of autoimmune disorders. Specifically, the book explains how environments with fewer bacteria seem to foster more allergic people. Thus, the reason that our kids can't have nuts in school these days is not because parents' over-protectiveness causes psychosomatic symptoms in their children (as Dan might argue). Allergy increases seem to be one result of our over-sterilized modern environment. Processed food inputs, increased vaccination, and less exposure to dirt and animals mean that children' insides do not contain the bacteria, viruses, and microorganisms they've been designed to contain.

Now I'm not prone to allergies myself, but the amount of unfolded laundry in my house seems to be giving me symptoms similar to Hay-fever.

Is there a simple cure to return my children to the self-sufficient playfulness of pioneer life? Is it fewer toys? Corporal punishment? A believable risk of starvation?

I'm tired of begging my kids to let me do housework. I'm tired of looking at them like little walking time-bombs of need. I'm tired of acting like a human television set, reading books for two hours a day, coming up with games they might like or craft projects they could try. I'm tired of packing lunches and snacks and juices and driving to places that hold zero interest to me because there needs to be something stimulating(!) and educational(!) to fill all those hours in the middle of the day. I'm just plain worn-our tired. Can't they just go and play?

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