Imagination Is Free

Heard a bunch of little kids playing outside over the weekend — probably ages 5 or 6. Two of the kids were in a little red wagon while the third pulled it around their grandparents’ front lawn. It made me wish for simpler days again.

The simpler days when we, as children, could use almost anything to play with — a big box, pillows from the sofa, the cardboard rolls from toilet paper and paper towels. My brother and I would make a “fort” in the living room by moving one of the 8 sofa pillows (hey, it was the 80s, and apparently you weren’t expected to sit down on the darned thing) and placing them between the edge of the sofa and the top of the coffee table. This gave us room for our “for,” where we’d just hang out and play with our little toys.

We had Castle Grayskull and He-Man figures, My Little Ponies, Barbies and G.I. Joe guys, who all managed to work together (or fight together). Seeing a G.I. Joe on top of a My Little Pony horse might have been funny to adults, but it worked for us.

Or we’d go outside and play in the dirt — literally. My Little Bro would use his Tonka trucks to dig a hole in the backyard, and we’d talk about how long it would take to dig down to China.

We weren’t over-scheduled kids with too many activities — it wasn’t until we were 8 or 9 that we even learned what organized sports were, and we only played if we asked to get signed up for the recreational leagues. I went with softball, Little Bro went with baseball. I had a piano lesson once a week after we were able to get a cheap (maybe free, I think) piano through a family friend.

But there was no camp when we were little — we played amongst ourselves and maybe would have what parents today call a “play date” with one of the neighborhood kids. But they weren’t arranged — we’d just go knock on a neighbors door and ask if “Jack” or “Jill” could come out to play. Then our imaginations would take us away.

We were home until we went to school — I went to preschool and entered Kindergarten early, at the age of 4, while Little Bro didn’t go the preschool route and went straight into the local grammar school. But after school, we’d still come home and want to play with whatever we found. A tennis ball was all we needed to make up a new game to play with the neighborhood kids.

Things were much simpler then.