We are not spur-of-the-moment people. But this past week, we decided to be. We loaded up the Santa Fe and headed home to spend Memorial Day weekend in Alabama. SEC baseball, family, and more food than was humanly possible to consume. Good stuff. And I got to thinking about childhood. Both mine and my kids’.
I love to drive. Really. It’s one of my favorite things to do. And long road trips are no exception. As a kid, my dad used to force us to listen to his music when we took road trips. He’d tell us when we were old enough to drive, we could pick the music.
Because as soon as we were old enough to drive, the rule changed. Then it became when you OWN the car, you can pick the music.
For that reason, music, specifically my dad’s music, became a rather large part of my childhood memories. I can sing every word to The Beatles Greatest Hits, Volume 1. Frank Valli and the Four Seasons, Chicago, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and on and on and on.
My dad’s music.
For my first concert, Dad took us all to Paul Simon’s Graceland tour. He played at the Oak Mountain Amphitheatre in August 1991. I was 14. My memory of the concert is limited to the African dancers and the loud drums but years later, I read a columnist with the Birmingham News rank that concert as one of the top ten best he’d ever attended. I remember thinking, wow, that must have been an amazing concert.
And how cool that I was there.
However, what my memory lacks where the concert is concerned, it more than makes up for with the music. Paul Simon’s Graceland cassette tape got worn slap out in our car. Dad loved it. And we did too. Although, I would never have admitted it THEN. Not when there was a perfectly good Wilson Phillips tape.
(“Someday someone’s gonna make you wanna turn around and say goodbye…”)
(…to really bad pop music.)
In the car on Wednesday, the kids were doing their Minion “banana” impression and something about it reminded me of the “Ta-na-nas” in Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes. Chris turned it on for me and I sang along just like my dad had done thirty years before.
“She’s a rich girl.
She don’t try to hide it.
Got diamonds on the soles of her shoes.
He’s a poor boy.
Empty as a pocket.
Empty as a pocket with nothing to lose.”
As I was singing, I kept thinking about those car rides as a kid, my dad’s music, and how very ordinary our life and my childhood was.
There were no big, elaborate trips to fancy resorts. A Holiday Inn with a pool was good enough. We had a pop-up camper for several years and there is zippo glamorous about RV parks and community showers. We didn’t play every sport possible. I took dance, my brother played basketball. We were never the best students (although my brother could straight sleep through Physics and still make A’s on the tests) (also a Stinker). There was youth choir, RA derby car races, marching band competitions, and proms. Family date nights of wings and Books-a-Million.
Overall, incredibly ordinary.
Our little family has now reached the end of the school year and I have basically zero planned for them. We have season passes to our local water park but, y’all, that’s really it. No camps. No VBS. No tutoring or classes or anyone expecting us to show up anytime, any place, anywhere.
This summer will be monumentally unbusy.
And I may regret saying this, but I like things that way.
Summers are for getting bored and riding bikes and building sand castles and waking up to see what the day will bring. It’s for figuring out what to make out of cardboard boxes and then playing with those for hours. It’s for fireworks and cookouts and running through the sprinklers. It’s last minute playdates and throw-some-Lunchables-in-a-cooler picnic days.
To quote Paul Simon, “These are the days of miracle and wonder.”
My childhood wasn’t magical. We weren’t the center of my parent’s world. Had we been, we wouldn’t have been forced to endure hours upon hours of music we hated (or pretended to hate). Instead, my parents made us a part of their world. Footballs games and picnics for my dad’s crew members and concerts he really wanted to see. I can’t imagine what I would have missed if my dad had let us get our way or if my mom had scheduled us in every summer camp imaginable.
We would have missed creating out of boredom and seeing how fast we could ride our bikes down the hill and making bracelets for hours on end with my best friends in our neighborhood.
What we lacked in childhood magic, we more than made up for with long days of miraculous wonder.
In these parenting days of Facebook and Instagram, it’s so easy to compare our lives with others. To believe we are seeing their average side-by-side with our average. To assume we are seeing them create childhood magic. When really, we are seeing their highlight reel. A day of miraculous wonder. And we get caught up believing we have to do more, be more, see more, create more, plan more, seize more.
When the truth is, what our children need is more of us. And less of them as the center of the universe.
Momma, if you’re feeling like your kids’ childhoods are flying by and you’re not sure you’ve given them enough magic to last, let’s learn from our parents.
Let’s give our kids some space to create and grown and learn through hours of unscheduled, unexpected play. We can turn on our music in the car and in the house and when they complain, make them dance with you until they fall out exhausted.
Our children will remember very little in the way of details about the vacations we plan and the summer camps we send them to and even the concerts we drag them to with us. But they will remember we loved them enough to share a part of ourselves with them.
They’ll remember we packed a picnic lunch on a whim because we weren’t scheduled to be anywhere.
They’ll remember long road trips home to visit cousins and aunts and Nana’s and Meme’s.
They’ll remember how we sang loudly and embarrassingly to every word of the music we loved.
And if we’re as fortunate as parents as we were as children, they’ll remember a loving family and realize, that’s the true magic of childhood.