As I tick off the days on my calendar, hurtling ever closer to a time of year I truly relish, I long for change.
As summer winds down and we prepare for big new things with the coming school year, there is a familiar feeling of newness in the air. I reflect on my own childhood, when school starting meant picking out new overalls at JCPenney, buying a Rainbow Brite lunchbox and a kitten-covered Trapper Keeper at Ames. It is when my siblings and I were often hauled along to the hay field in the late afternoon, with nothing along to occupy us but our own imaginations. When Saturday mornings meant cartoons all morning and cleaning our own rooms. I long for change, but I long for these moments of yesteryear. I want my children to experience childhood with the same measures of innocence and independence that I experienced.
I fully admit to relying on technology with my children at times, to get things done or just so I can get a break from the bickering. And this summer has seen more use of the Kindle and the LeapPad than I would have liked, becoming a bit of a crutch and a habit on days when I didn’t have a whole entertaining schedule planned out. But honestly, why should I?! Sure, it’s wonderful to expose the children to different experiences, to have beach days and amusement park days and science center days. But the constant pressure to be actively engaging and teaching my children every moment of every waking hour is exhausting, and unnecessary. I might even go so far as to say that it is detrimental in some ways. I want my kids to be independent thinkers and to be able to entertain themselves. And as wonderful as it can be to let them play educational games on the Kindle sometimes, that is not teaching them how to be and do those things.
Please don’t misunderstand me – my children are quite good at playing on their own and we do plenty of outside play. It is my own perception and attitude that need changing. The pressures I mentioned above are mainly coming from myself, although the plethora of “do-this-with-your-kids” activities on my Pinterest feed certainly do not help. I have done lots of reflecting lately on how to alter this feeling in myself, as well as how to simplify things in our family life so that our children experience the fleeting moments of childhood with as much wonder and innocence as possible.
I started by asking them each what their favorite moments of the summer have been.
Finding out what types of things stuck most in their memories was eye-opening for me. I found that it was the people we spent time with, and the simple, unplanned moments that meant the most to them. They remembered playing imaginary games with their cousin on their grandparents’ back lawn. They told me, and showed me, exactly how their baby cousin smiled at them for the first time. They reminisced about giggling in bed when sleeping over at my sister’s house with my mom. They described how cool it was that Grammy gave them an “outside tubby” in the turtle pool, and “shooting the bacteria” off Daddy’s truck with water guns when Grandpa Cantin watched them one day. Not one mention of apps or video games or even the various craft projects we’ve done.
These special moments that they described to me, they cannot be manufactured or forced. They are memories that they will treasure for a lifetime because they were moments of real joy.
I cannot promise that I won’t break out the Kindle now and then, and I’m totally fine with putting on a children’s show or movie for them at times. But I can say that I am making a conscious effort to rely on these things less. Instead of automatically saying yes when they ask me to play on an electronic, I’m going to have a list of alternatives ready for them. Sometimes that will mean stopping what I’m working on, whether it’s my editing or housework, and reading a chapter from our latest book, or playing a quick game of Go Fish. But I also will try to remember that I don’t need to be their entertainment all day long either. It is perfectly acceptable to tell them to go play in their rooms for half an hour or more. They are capable of looking at books on their own, or playing cards together. We can go on outings, but they don’t always have to be pre-planned and scheduled with activities. It is just as fun (maybe more so!) to go hang out in a big field and let them run.
The coming fall and school year always makes me feel like making resolutions, even more so than at New Year’s, and I am motivated and excited to begin this resolution for our family. To simplify our lives, to find the joy in everyday moments, to encourage little minds to engage their imaginations and fantasies without the aide of electronics and scheduled crafts. I hope to instill in my children a contentment and thrill at just being – being themselves, being in the moment, being capable.
That, I believe, is the greatest gift I can impart to them.