As a kid we didn’t have many clothes or enough to eat, let alone fancy toys and video games and such. We played outside all the time. It wasn’t a decision. That’s just what you do when you’re broke. But, if I recall correctly, trees and dirt and a complete lack of common sense can make for a solid afternoon.
In fact, I don’t remember ever being bored as a child. I remember running a lot, and falling down and getting back up again. I recall drinking from the hose, and getting that special kind of kid-dirty that adults can’t muster. There was so much dirt and digging and puddles and I-bet-you-can’t-slide-in-this-mud-as-far-as-I-can. I remember getting hurt sometimes, and learning to be brave and how to deal with it. One time I learned why maybe it isn’t such a great idea to play with matches on a dry, windy day.
Most of all, though, I remember that flush of envy when other kids went out to dinner or to movies or whatever it was they were doing without me so often. I remember being tired of always playing at someone else’s house. But, they had that new robot that talked, or a new swimming pool, or a super cool train set mounted on a table that folded out of the wall. I should have been grateful they shared with me, but instead it ate at me. It was a pinch and a gnaw in my gut that can’t be reasoned with. It’s baggage I still carry – probably always will. Look, at a certain point, you notice that Santa gives the other kids more presents than he gives you. Which is, frankly, a lot for a little kid to process.
Fast forward a million years and now I’m the Dad. We’re all educated, we work hard, and we’re doing alright. Of course I buy video games, and bikes, and we even set up a somewhat-pricey zip line out in the woods for the kids. And yes, I take the family to all the restaurants. I love that we can afford to eat out. A big part of why I work so hard is to give my kids what I didn’t have.
I really love working from home. As often as I can, I’m scooping them up off the school bus at the end of the day and zooming into town to see what fun and frivolity we can get up to. Dinner, yes, maybe a movie? They love that one ice cream stand. It doesn’t even matter where, or when, or why. It makes me happy down deep that my kids get to have the childhood that I wanted.
However, as The Universe is so fond of reminding me, I’m not actually in charge. Tonight the kids exited the bus at sonic speed, dropped their books inside the front door and immediately ran into the woods. No hello, no good bye. Barely looked at me. The cats didn’t even have time to ignore them properly. I can hear their shrill chorus with all the neighbor kids screaming somewhere off in the trees as I write this. Don’t they know I want to give them what I didn’t have? The little ingrates.
You know what really stinks about being an adult? Growing up enough to realize now that all my years of hurting and feeling left out were a giant waste of energy. What was I angry about, exactly? That I had to play outside? In the woods? With my friends? C’mon dude – that’s the good stuff. These days I’m realizing that new, shiny bikes don’t matter, that the talking robot I lusted after just ended up in a landfill. In the end, I don’t regret not having a wall-mounted train set. I regret that I spent so much time focused on what I didn’t have that I didn’t appreciate just how much I did have.
Tonight we’re not hopping around town like I had planned. We’re staying home and eating leftovers, yet again. Sigh. Not because we can’t afford it, but because my kids know what is important. They’re aren’t hung up on price tags, or five stars, or locally sourced organic saffron, or whatever. They like romping and stomping and climbing and band-aids on their knees and pretending to be a dog. Don’t underestimate the importance of pretending to be a dog. It’s critical childhood stuff. And it wouldn’t hurt a few adults I know, either.
The important thing is that my kids are having fun and they already appreciate what they have. So, come to think of it, I guess they are having the childhood I wanted. Huh. What do you know about that?
Oh, look. Now they’re ignoring the expensive zip line completely and are playing in the mud. Now they’re climbing trees. I think I even heard one of them fall. Maybe someone will get their arm in a cast and all their friends can sign it at school tomorrow. How lucky would that be?