Playing is an integral part of most living things. Playing within the animal kingdom is how different species learn how to co-exist within their community. It burns off energy. Blah blah blah.

                Look, playing is just fun. Nobody learned critical elements of capitalism from Monopoly, but they did learn how to manage anger when one of their competitors failed to land on their hotel for the third straight time. No sane person thought they could perform open heart surgery if they won at Operation, and getting a ringer in horseshoes was just an exercise in muscle memory. The goal to any game should be to have fun while doing your best to win. Period.

                And for the most part that was our play as children. Yes, we wanted to bust Susie’s arm when we blasted through in Red Rover, but if we didn’t, we shrugged it off. Nothing beat that unmistakable sound of a red dodgeball to the face, or the rhythmic slapping of a tetherball being hit in an arc so great that your arms simply could do nothing to stop it. We laughed. We smiled. We looked forward to that precise moment as the swing hit apogee and, defying common sense, we let ourselves go, knowing that with the right amount of force, we could finally land outside the protective layer of gravel and blacktop.

                Sure, we kept score. Sure, we lauded our victories and grumbled about our defeats. But it wasn’t until we got older that winning became so critical. Nothing takes the fun out of play like growing up. To be sure, life contains unlimited amounts of hard-knock lessons, some of which leave real and figurative scars. And yes, there comes a time to put away childish things. In the movie Hook, a now very old Wendy has learned that a now middle-aged Peter Pan has become a ruthless, workaholic lawyer. Gone was a life dedicated to fun, and in its place was a cold, heartless existence.

                “Why Peter,” Wendy announced, “you’ve become a pirate!”

                Play was so simple when we were little. An entire afternoon could be spent having fun with little or no equipment. A dozen boys could kick the snot out of each other with just one football. Two people could shoot a basketball until the sun went down or until they knew that their mom was just about ready to put supper on the table. A fishing pole and a dozen worms could lead to a nice bundle of fish. And if the fish weren’t biting, smooth stones being skipped over the surface of the pond was fun as well.

                I know that every generation thinks that the ones that follow are softer and less educated, but some of the ways we played were almost clinically stupid. Hey current 15-year-old, want to know why fireworks are regulated or even illegal? It’s because when my people were your age, we would light roman candles and shoot them at each other. We broke bones and chipped teeth and got monster strawberries. Me, my brother and our friends used to race each other over piles of rusted, jagged scrap metal just to see who could do it the quickest.

                Our Christmas gifts were the seeming byproduct of madmen with no sense of reason or the appreciation of the inner workings of mass litigation. Looking down at my right index finger, I can still see the scar left there by molten plastic from a Creepy Crawler set. We, albeit briefly, played with human launched, steel-tipped missiles called Jarts, which were just as inclined to stick in your skull as they were to land in the circle you were supposed to be aiming at. For crying out loud, kids get chemistry sets that, if you were to order them today, would initiate a criminal investigation by the DHS!

                And don’t get me started on playground equipment! The only reason more kids didn’t tumble to their death over the sides of slides is because their skin was too busy sticking to the metal surface, which was now acting as a searing-hot grill for their exposed flesh. Merry-go-rounds were an experiment in the power of centrifugal force, and teeter totters were how chiropractors paid their mortgages. We climbed about on a metal structure comprised of a loose association of joined bars and curves, a structure whose very name was associated with simian subculture.

                The point of this entry isn’t that we played tougher, it’s that we played together. As a culture, we are losing the concept of communal interactions. We go on dates and the entire time, everyone is looking down at their phones. My guess is that just as many kids would be as happy mashing buttons online as they would be spending time with their friends actually doing something. We’ve never been more connected, yet more isolated.

                Crows take time out of their busy schedule doing crow things in order to take a leaf and slide down a snowy roof time and time again. And if crows can find the joy in play, then so can we.