There is value to simple fun; fun that costs nothing other than free time and a place to play.
When I was a kid in the 1970s and 80s, I didn’t play soccer, take ballet, or do art classes. I went to school, came home, played in my yard, and planned various ways to spy on my teenage sisters.
I was frequently bored, and had to find creative ways to fill my time, like pretending the rock garden in our back yard was actually a kitchen; or finding a packet of morning glory seeds in my mom’s junk drawer and planting them next to the pillars on our side porch. My mom stared at them in disbelief when they began to work their vines up the pillars, wondering how they could have possibly grown on their own.
We had three very old out buildings behind our midwestern farm house, and I would endlessly examine their floors and corners, looking for treasures from the families who came before mine, but usually just found disturbing spiders.
I have always had an active imagination, and I think most of that is because I had to entertain myself as a kid. I had to create my own simple fun. This was common amongst children when I was growing up.
Kids of today have different childhoods. “Fun” is often organized, planned for, and often paid for. Trampoline arenas, climbing gyms, pottery painting, Chuck E. Cheese…As my friend Delissa once said, it’s a “Pay to Play” era. Somehow having my kids at home, all of the time, has made me realize how much I seek entertainment from the outside world, and I have conditioned them to do the same.
I am also becoming more and more aware of a monologue in my brain that is a bit neurotic. It’s a compulsion to do something; to fix things; to remove boredom; to invest in my kids’ education; to give them another experience. It goes something like this:
“Have my kids done their homework? Have they answered emails from their teachers? Did I buy the snacks I promised for the kindergarten classroom?” Oh wait, there is no school.
“My kids haven’t moved enough today. We need to enroll them in something, anything. Rock climbing? Tae Kwon Do? How much would that cost every month?” That’s right, there are no classes right now.
“He’s interested in coding. I wonder if there are any coding camps he could do this summer?” Oh…yes, most camps are cancelled.
“He’s been on his screen too much today. This isn’t good!” Oh, but that’s the only way he can do his school.
“Has he seen his friends lately? We should plan a playdate. What about socialization?” Oh, that’s right, we aren’t allowed to see anybody!
So often, my answer to each perceived problem is an action; it’s DOING something. But in an era when we literally can’t DO anything with our kids outside of our home, this dialog is completely useless.
So I’m having to resort to new thought processes. I have to be OK with many things being broken; or different; or just kind of existing as is. Here’s what I’m noticing:
Our lives are far less chaotic. We are lingering at the dinner table instead of racing through to get to an activity.
It’s a nice break from the outside world of teenage pressures. I feel like my teenagers can be themselves in a way that isn’t possible when they are out on the town, perpetually embarrassed by their parents and little brother.
We are all getting a little crazy, and the craziness looks different on each of us. If you are trapped in a house with your kids and your spouse, you know exactly what I mean…if not, I’ll leave it up to your imagination.
My kids are remembering old interests, and are spending time doing hobbies that had been set aside because of the busyness of school. They have been reading books for fun again.
In many ways, this time is reminiscent of when we homeschooled. On the days when I work from home, we eat all three meals together; we share stories; we talk about old memories from when they were little…
And it’s kind of like a family vacation because we are all together on this adventure, with little interaction with the outside world.
But there is also an overwhelming sense of unrest. As much as I love having my children at home, and all of the family time we’ve had, things aren’t as they should be. Teenagers love to be with friends. My kindergartener misses going to the park. My parents have been in isolation for months now, with no reprieve in sight. Things aren’t right.
A difficult season calls for a different plan. So I’m working hard to adopt a new approach to life, and to school, during COVID-19. Here’s my new plan for the remainder of this season. It’s based on embracing simple things, and easy expectations. Maybe it will resonate with you:
Activity #1: Survive as well as we can. Let’s face it, shopping with gloves and a mask is no fun, especially when grocery stores are depleted. Contracting COVID-19 is even more scary. I’m here to say SURVIVAL IS ENOUGH. But just surviving can get boring and repetitive, which leads to the rest of my list…
Activity #2: Bake cookies and try some new recipes. When my dad had a heart attack at 43, I remember my older sister telling me to stop crying, and then pulling out the ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies with me. Doing something ordinary like baking distracted me, easing my spirit, and made the time pass more quickly. It is the same today.
Activity #3: Do the little things that give us joy. Like baking. Or watching the baby bunny in the backyard. Or looking at old family photos.
Activity #4: Do the school work that must get done, but realize that the majority of the “work” in this season is character development. We are all learning about endurance, patience and being content in any circumstance. I, for one, like seasons like this to pass quickly (which illustrates why I apparently need more practice learning those character traits).
Activity $5: Exercise and breathe fresh air. Exercise is my Prozac. If I don’t move, everyone suffers.
Activity #6: Focus on our blessings more than our hardships during this season. This is a lesson I’ve had a lot of practice in since the closure of our small business three years ago. It has taught me that gratitude is a choice, and it is something that has to be practiced. When I practice being thankful, I realize that, though there are a lot of hard and unsolvable things in life right now, I am also surrounded by blessings. It’s a constant, repeated choice to choose gratitude over grumbling, and the more you do it, the easier it gets.
Activity #8 Embrace the simple fun. Card games; binge watching a Netflix show; reading books; making the cats chase after the laser pen…my kids have the chance to live my childhood for awhile. I’d like to enjoy it with them. How about you?