It’s OK To Play

Sometimes you just know that something feels right. A while ago we went shopping in IKEA (I forget what everyday item we went there for; probably something like an energy efficient light-bulb or – yes, I think it was drinking glasses – but as is the manner of things, what you go looking for in IKEA is not always what you walk out with.) The first thing I saw as we walked in the entrance was a huge wire bin filled with soft toy rats – dozens of them in a big pile. Soft, sweet and rat-like in the best of ways, just asking to be picked up and stroked. I couldn’t resist – chose three and tucked them under my arm where they perched, peeping out into the store as we made our way onwards through the labyrinth of furniture and household items and eventually towards the checkout. Once we got home the rats settled in; I put them on a bed, but was startled to find later that they had changed position entirely and then started turning up in all kinds of other locations. Over the next few days they were to be seen perched on bedsteads, climbing over banisters, peering out of boots and shoes, and gazing out of windows.

The thing is though, even as I was happily buying them I was rationalising (that’s not supposed to be any kind of pun) to myself – thinking, two of them can be Christmas presents (even though no-one in my family has young children and most of us are, to put it mildly, middle aged). But even though I knew that rat number three was going to stay, that I was buying it for myself, and I knew which one that would be, at the same time I was aware of an inner voice that kept asking me quite what I thought I was doing and why. ‘Just what exactly does this say about your state of mind?’ this voice was asking. ‘Just why do you think you want a soft cuddly toy? What are you planning to do with it? Do you really think of yourself as a middle-aged person who cuddles a soft stuffed rat?’

I ignored this nagging voice but it didn’t go away. I don’t usually worry much about what other people think, but I was obviously going to have to deal with this inner critic so after a few days I thought I’d pay it some attention and hopefully shut it up.

It can be easier to be indulge other people’s behaviour than your own. Thinking about it I realised that I deny myself a lot of small pleasures for no good reason. It can be easier somehow, to say no, than to say yes – and it gets to be a habit. If stroking the silky soft fur of this rat and holding it cradled in my hand is pure pleasure, so what? If it makes me feel good, and reminds me of the delight I have in the company of real live animals (like the guinea-pigs that I’ve recently been drawing and which are actually about the same size and shape of stuffed-rat, which admittedly is a bit of a hybrid creature) – so what? What’s the big problem? If playing a subtle and unspoken game of Move-The-
-Rat is good fun (and it is), why should I worry about it? Why shouldn’t it be OK to play?

Of course it’s OK. In fact, it’s more than OK, it’s definately a good thing, and a thing to feel good about. And having dealt with that nagging voice I realised I’d set myself free to come a bit closer to home, and – I’m smiling to myself as I write this – it’s a thing to celebrate, because I’ve learnt that it really is the smallest of things that can make a difference. When you add them all together, the difference can be amazing.