My son and his best friend walk into the kitchen, all sweaty and flushed. I love these boys.
“Can we have something to eat?”
No guys, dinner is in twenty minutes. Get a drink of water.
They stop for a second and watch me cook, fighting the urge to say they’re bored.
“But what can we DO?”
And here’s my dilemma: I know I could suggest an activity or create a project. I could construct an experience. I could manufacture a memory. It could be one of those “Remember that time when…” things.
Instead, practicality wins out and I say, “It’s gorgeous. Go outside and play.”
They shuffle their disappointed feet across the floor and shut the door.
As I get dinner on the table, I reminisce about my own childhood. So much unstructured unsupervised time. My brother and I could ride our bikes all over the neighborhood. We would meet with the neighbor kids down by our creek and explore in the woods for hours.
And I feel bad for my kids. They don’t have the same freedom I had.
We live in a safe neighborhood, but we still lock our doors at night. We know our neighbors and have a supportive community. But my seven year old son does not explore in the woods with his friends without an adult. Not just yet. Maybe if we lived in a different town, in a different part of the country… but it’s a different world than when I grew up.
(I wonder if this is exactly what my parents thought when I was little? How my childhood was more restricted and structured than theirs?)
Lost in thought, a shriek from the backyard snaps me to the present. I run to the window, panicked. The boys are on the swing set, but it’s hard to see them through the afternoon sunglow. I rush outside into the backyard.
The noise which startled me to attention was not from pain or anger, but was the first peals of laughter. They are swinging on the glider, back to back, mouths open hysterical, falling sideways and barely holding on.
It’s probably how the afternoon sun is shining which makes the scene before me otherworldly and ethereal.
I stand in barefoot awe as I witness what one can only see when you’re on the other side of it — the simple magic of childhood.
This kind of moment layers itself into memories of days spent free, safe, and without responsibility. The beauty of childhood is the independence they feel within the boundaries we set for them.
These days, we are trying so hard to create the magic for our kids ourselves. We want to be the architects of their memories. We take thousands of pictures, make minute by minute vacation plans, and arrange themed playdates. None of that is wrong. But let’s agree that none of it is essential.
Childhood, inherently, is magical. Some of their “Remember When” memories will only happen when we step out of the way and let them experience and create their own magic.
Sometimes, it will happen right in our own backyard.