As our current students near Reading Week—an opportunity each term to pause, catch up, and enjoy a week without classes—Heather Casimere writes about the beauty and importance of play. In the midst of hard, meaningful work and challenging realities, Heather reminds us that a little bit of childlike playfulness can go a long way.

Since moving to Seattle, I’ve found myself collecting little trinkets here and there. A pair of tiny purple mermaids found a way to nestle between my steering wheel and glove compartment; a duet of Play-Doh containers jingle around with my office supplies. The art which spills out of my paintbrushes and onto the canvas is full of colorful shapes and figures. The pieces I produce are often playful, like a child’s.

I know how to grind. Even in the midst of full-time graduate school and part-time administrative work, I’ve learned to keep on keeping on. I can manage school and work and exercise and friends and family and creative expression. That Black woman survivor gene is strong. But what about giving myself permission to drop the sword? What about surrendering to the childlike joy of play?

“What about surrendering to the childlike joy of play?”

This is something my five-year-old friend Eliam is teaching me. “Miss Heather, Miss Heather!” He exclaims, jumping up and down with excitement. In the several weeks we’ve not seen each other, Christmas has come and gone, and he emanates joy, thrilled to introduce me to his new friends (playthings). “Want to see my new motorcycle? Look at what my Dad built me! Want to play with this remote-control droid?” Intimidated at the prospect of flying his tiny helicopter indoors, I take the remote control sports car on a whirl. We end up sitting, as we do most times, bottoms on the floor, eager to see what will reveal itself to us through the assorted tubes of paint.

This is where we play. Eliam has been the perfect partner-in-play during this season of emotional excavation and rebuilding of foundations. He shares with me his excitement for hummingbirds, his new works of art, the exciting new games he has learned. He inspires me to come up out of the deep and splash around in the joy of the surface for a while. My young friend makes it easy to laugh; to chase; to tickle; to play. I want more of this in my life! Frequent trips to visit my young friend (and his playful parents) are in order.

But how do we create space for playfulness when not hanging out with our tiny role models? I think we must be intentional about creating mini adventures that allow us to jump, laugh, and roll. Play may be as simple as making space for it. Reading Week is just around the corner. Perhaps it looks like running up to the mountains or taking a roadtrip with friends (as I intend to do). Maybe it’s checking out the new Black Panther movie (shout out to Wakanda!) or ducking into a new restaurant with delicious expectation. Whatever it is, let’s take advantage of this built in space to laugh, to dance, to play…and oh yeah…to read!