I had an amazing childhood. The teen years... well, we won't get into that now, but those years before the onset of puberty were a thing of beauty.
I grew up in the 1980s and '90s, so I grew up with most of the modern conveniences. I am the first generation of kids who had the Internet. I had a television in my bedroom when I got older, and a VCR, too. Most of my friends had gaming consoles and cable TV. I say this because, although kids now may have better graphics and better technology, my childhood wasn't as fundamentally different from my kids' childhood as my parents was from mine, or even more so, my father-in-law's 1940s upbringing. It's a difference in degree, rather than a difference in kind, and I am actually a little stricter than my parents were about technology. Surprisingly, or maybe not, technology is not what my childhood memories are made of.
When I was a kid we spent whole weeks playing beneath the bowers of a group of bushes that grew together on the "shores" of a dry rockbed we called (and I still call) the Rock River. It was our mansion, and the holes between the trunks were the various rooms. In front of it there was a flat-topped boulder that served as our kitchen, and nearby, a boulder with two indentations that functioned as seats for our rock car. I once tried to convince my mother to let me sleep out there for a week. If only she would give me a little money, I pressed her, I would buy myself a loaf of bread and some peanut butter and live like the Boxcar Children in humble, independent simplicity. She was not swayed.
When we tired of life at the "mansion," we would pack up shop and move to the "cabin," a retaining wall under a pine tree, near the pond, with a manhole cover that functioned nicely as our kitchen table. The view was better, if the accommodations, a bit more rustic, and the elderly German lady who lived on the top of the hill, Mrs. Kovash, would sometimes give us cookies, or invite us in to watch her knit and play with her parakeets, Cocoa and Nico. She knit hats for orphans and sometimes for us, and talked a great deal about her family back home in East Germany. This was before the wall came down. We had a cookie lady at the mansion as well, but she moved to a nursing home when I was still quite young, and I can't remember her name. I only remember that she always had windmill shaped cookies.
I could go on all day, telling stories of lemonade stands and bike parades, of the time we decided to try jumping off of Gala's second story deck onto some cushions and got our butts handed to us by our parents, or of the epic water balloon war the older boys waged one summer, and let us participate in. I could tell about the time, in high school, when we decided to build a luge track, or the time we stuffed a model boat with so many fire crackers we made glass on the beach. There were the times we spent at the treehouse at Geneva's, or in the canoe, or that birthday of hers when we camped in the basement. In my memory it is like one long, never-ending summer day.
We had long stretches of time on our hands, and we were rarely ever bored. "Only boring people get bored," my mother used to tell me. My mom did not suffer whining gladly. If we whined at her that we were bored, the whining was the problem she dealt with, not the lack of stimulation. And, as it turns out, she was right. Nature abhors a vacuum. In the absence of constant entertainment from either mother or electronics, we got busy making our own fun. We got creative and we got resourceful. As an adult, I have never liked television all that much because it simply isn't as interesting to me as what goes on in my own imagination.
That is what I am aiming for with my own kids, to turn down the noise of entertainment and the demands of life and give them space to think and to be. Make no mistake, I have high expectations of my kids. We are not laying around in our pajamas doing nothing all day. Well, not everyday, anyway. We have work to do, and work should be attended to diligently and thoroughly, but equally as important as a strong work ethic is a strong commitment to genuine leisure. A little boredom is a good thing. Instead of letting restlessness take hold of you and demand ever bigger and flashier entertainment, take the time to tinker with your guitar, or write that story that is floating around in your head. Build an imaginary world and lead your imaginary army in battle against the forces of evil. Catch a fish, plant a seed, Or write a sonnet. Take a nap. (Seriously, kids. Please take a nap.) Design a machine to ship packages from one end of the room to the other. Set up an obstacle course for your brothers and see how high they can climb the walls.
Oh, wait. No. Don't do that. Just don't tell me you are bored.