I wedged my desk into the corner with two windows thinking that the view would prove inspiring and make me feel like I was part of the world. I was wrong. Instead, when I look up from my keyboard to gaze out at the sun-drenched lawns of my quiet suburban neighborhood, I want more than anything to go outside and play. I want to grab a mitt and a ball, or a kite, or my neglected longboard and take off into the breeze, careless of responsibilities and deadlines. What I do instead? I take a deep breath and get the hell back to work.
“I wanna go outside and play” is, perhaps, a strange sentence in the mouth of a father with a full-time gig and a mortgage and tired look in his eyes — a man of responsibilities. But I decline to believe it’s an unusual sentiment. I think a lot of us feel this way. I think a lot of us, particularly those who spend their time around children, resent the fact that weekdays must be spent making money and outdoor recreation is reserved for the evenings. We dream lustily of the sun in the same way worse men dream lustily of their coworkers.
Yeah, I wanna go outside and play. If you don’t like it, you know what you can do.
And I’m not crazy either. It’s not a bad impulse. There’s no need for outdoor-shaming. Adults who are concerned about children’s physical and mental health often advocate for more time outside. Concerned parents are pushing schools for more outdoor recess time to fight childhood obesity. Authors like Richard Louv lament about American kids’ Vitamin N (nature) deficiency. But there aren’t initiative like that for working stiffs. There’s lunchtime, but that ain’t much.
That’s deeply weird. Now in my 40s my body and mind would probably benefit enormously from some outdoor playtime. I’m carrying 20 pounds more than I should and sit for most of my day. An outdoor frolic or six definitely wouldn’t hurt. I should run around the house or throw a ball with myself or go for a walk. I don’t. I work. How much of that is a result of perceived pressure and how much is actual pressure? I haven’t the slightest. I really don’t know. Either way, it’s not great that my default stance is indifference to my own health and happiness.
Men are more likely than women to die from every leading cause of death, with the single exception of Alzheimer’s disease. That’s likely why, despite increasing life expectancy, men still die five years faster than women on average. Men also under-report depression and die of suicide four-times more often than women. Men seek medical care from physicians at about half the rate that women do, even excluding pregnancy care.
We don’t say we wanna go outside and play. And, more importantly, we don’t go outside and play.
Would getting outside to play make me happier and healthier? It’s not a given, but it’s hard to imagine that a little bit of adult recess would hurt. It’s further hard to imagine that it would hurt productivity. Working with a clear head is a lot more efficient than working with 14 open browser tabs and a messaging app beeping away.
I want to go outside and play and I don’t want to feel the black tension of responsibility tightening around my chest and pulling me back to my desk. I want to be on a trail with the sun on my face thinking about anything other than coworkers fruitlessly pinging me and growing frustrated. I want to get outside with the kind of energy I had busting out of class as a teenager — hoping in my car, turning the stereo up until it was thudding fuzzy distortion and pulling out of the parking lot with tire screeching. I want to find walk until I find a patch of sun in the park and stay there with my hands tucked as a pillow behind my head until the afternoon light on my eyelids is a deep orange and I know it’s time to head home.
But that’s a dream brought to me on the breeze redolent with fresh cut grass, carrying the voices of my children at play in the yard after school. I want to be out there, chasing them, kicking around a ball, or just wrestling in the lawn.
Yes, I want to be out there for them. But I also want to be out there for me. I want to feel the sun on my face. I want to kick off my shoes and I want to feel a part of the big beautiful world. But for now, I need to close the blinds against the glare and turn on the white noise so I can concentrate. Maybe I’ll get out there before sunset. Maybe if I work harder.