Many of my earliest memories include setting up all of my dolls and stuffed animals to watch me perform.
Sing songs. Introduce and interview special guests. Host my own radio show. Sell salt – kind of odd but when a Cabbage Patch Kid or Glow Worm and I would find ourselves alone in the kitchen, I used to pick up the salt shaker, turn to the imaginary crew (perpetually) following me and give a quick pitch for the common household chemical compound. (Though I never referred to it like that.)
My imagination has always been close by and so has her frenemy, worry.
Whenever I’d get really into play – lose myself in a show – actually feel the warmth from the stove of the Fisher-Price kitchen set. Spin. Laugh. Create. I’d stop. Take a breath and say (never out-loud):
Wait, what was I supposed to be worrying about?
Then, I’d remind myself about an upcoming appointment, or an errand I didn’t want to go on, or a person I didn’t want to see, or a fight I’d caused with my sister or something I broke – and hid.
Then I’d go back to “pretending,” feeling a bit more grown-up having the worry front and center where only I could see her.
The older I got – the more organized the play – the more damning the question. In middle school and high school, while running lines for a school production or running across the field hockey field, I’d constantly (purposefully) take me out of whatever action was helping me let go and ask (never-loud):
Wait, what am I supposed to be worrying about?
That’s right. French test. Being asked out and being asked to keep it a secret. Getting pregnant – even though I’m not having sex. Getting fat – even though I’m 110 pounds. Being stupid – even though I’m on Honor Roll. The Friday night party – even though I’m not invited.
By then, worry felt less like a grown-up and more like a nagging kill-joy. And still, I credited her as the hero. Without her interruptions I may have: forgotten to study extra hard for the French test (that I still didn’t ace), given in to supersizing everything when the team stopped at McDonald’s (which I did, anyway), or not made it into the parked car where he’d push down on my head to get his, after I’d promise not to say anything.
Eventually, I stopped having to invite worry back in because she just never left.
But, lately I’ve been thinking that she’s overstayed her welcome. That maybe I can send her on her way with love and gratitude.
That maybe, I can just play.