I grew up in a small Kansas town. It was basically typical Mayberry, except our Andy Griffith was named Jim Bettles and he lived two houses behind ours. We rarely locked houses or cars, and during the summer my parents rarely knew exactly where we were. Well, they kind of knew.
We were either at one of the parks--even though the town was small, we had the choice of the city park or the school playground. Or we were at the indoor pool that was a block away, where we had a year-round family membership and spent a lot of time. Or we were playing in the woods or down by the trestle when a flood washed part of the track away meaning no trains ran on it. And many times we were right at home or out in the yard creating our own fun.
Sometimes, maybe our parents didn't know where we were. Because I don't think we were necessarily "allowed" to play in the abandoned barns at the edge of town even though we did. We had a set time to be home (which might have sometimes been the imprecise hour of dark) and we knew we needed their permission when going into a friend's house.
We road our bikes all over town, we roller-skated, we played basketball. We made up adventures. My sister and I shared a paper route, and I tagged along sometimes when she babysat. My brothers taught me to rappel from the tall pine in our yard and taught me about motorcycles. We got bored a lot, and curing the boredom was where the magic happened.
It was innocent childhood at its finest. There was something about living in a small town where quite literally everyone knows your name that gave us an extra dose of freedom to explore our independence and safely expand our horizons within our own imaginations.
Growing up, I'd hear people joke about how small our town was. How funny it was that there was nothing there. I didn't get it, because I got to do and explore things there that I wouldn't have been able to in a city. Even my own kids are restricted to our tiny townhome yard and I think how small their world and their freedom and their independence is to have to rely on me to take them to the library or the children's museum or the Y or the park.
And, yet, they have have access to that same small-town simplicity I grew up with. Because they still have full ownership of their imagination and the luxury of creating their own memories... when I get out of the way and let them.
In the process of giving our kids a "magical" childhood, we actually rob them of it and miss our chance at magical parenting. It happens without kids, too. We can too easily get caught up in believing a life well-lived involves big homes and fancy vacations and elaborate plans.
The truth is a little different. The truth is that putting the magic back in childhood, back in parenting, back in summer, and back in our own lives--it all revolves around a much simpler approach. One where simple moments and creative inspiration creates magic. One where not everything can or should be perfect. Where we already posses everything we need to be happy.
We add a lot of stress to our lives with not as a high a payout when we worry about getting every moment perfect. This is as true of the big moments like birthdays and holidays as it is for the smaller moments like meal times and summer break. And I'm not even talking about the Pinterest birthday parties--by now you know where you stand on those and either you do them and have fun with them or you don't and just enjoy a simpler celebration. I'm more talking about how the big and small all play into each other.
We sometimes stress over crafting a perfect memory through a party or a vacation, forgetting that some of the most memorable and cherished moments are the ones that are much more low-key. My parents did some fun things with us when we were kids--zoo trips and Worlds of Fun and road trips. The memories that really stand out are when boredom motivated us to make things happen. To open a candy stand on our front porch or make our own video version of Amelia Badelia or turn a blanket into a hammock tied between two of the large pine trees in our yard.
By trying to craft the perfect memory or the perfect life, we're not giving the space necessary to let our imaginations go to work.
A few days into summer break, after several lectures to the kids about how I'm not in charge of entertaining them, they finally remembered how to play on their own. They gathered toys in the living room and created their own yard sale unprompted by me. A couple hours in, my 8-year-old exclaimed, "You're right, mom! Our imaginations can help us have more fun!"
Yes, I realize these moments are hard won and that might be the last time I hear the words "you're right mom" come out of her mouth for the next 15 years. But every hard moment of leaving the tv off and not giving in to their cries of boredom is worth it if they can learn to employ the power of those growing brains to solve problems, to bring out the good in a lull, and to be the inventor of their own fun. These memories will eventually mean more to them than that one time we went to the Great Wolf Lodge, although we get requests for that a lot, too.
The difference is that when we give kids room to simply be kids, we're teaching them to be self-sufficient and content adults. And we rediscover that freedom for ourselves.
Instead of teaching them to look to money and expensive outings and us to solve their summer boredom, we're teaching them to find the solution within themselves to have fun and to be happy. Because it's there. They already have everything they need to be happy, and we're stealing the magic of their childhood when we allow them to think otherwise by always giving in to tv and new toys.
When that happens, perhaps we're needing to remember it ourselves. Maybe we need to be reminded that we already possess everything we need to be happy. Contentment and joy and well-living is ours for the taking. If only we'd stop freely handing it over to our tech-distractions or the pursuit of more money.
This simple approach just might put the magic back in childhood, summer, and life.
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