Recently, I saw a video of a friend's five-year-old daughter talking about wanting to eat her unicorn for Thanksgiving. When my friend asked her what unicorns taste like, the five-year-old responded, "Birthday cake."
And it started me thinking about childhood imagination. Childhood without constant screens.
My sisters and I did have screen time as kids. We played Reader Rabbit games and Oregon Trail. We watched Clifford the Big Red Dog and Arthur while our mom made dinner. We watched Shirley Temple movies and Veggie Tales and the handful of Disney movies we'd managed to own. But screen time was such a small part of our childhood. There's so much more to do.
I spent so much time growing up playing outside. Ruining my clothes in Georgia red clay. Building an imaginary playhouse by mounding dirt where the walls should be. This was called "the Cottage" and it's the center of so many fond memories.
We lived in the Cottage as pioneers hundreds of times, just like Little House. Living in the middle of nowhere. Redbird, the Indian "ruining" the Cottage garden to his real life brother's chagrin. My middle sister and her friend who lived next door running off to "the Greasy, Greasy Forest" because it annoyed big sister me. I would make the older boy from two doors down pick up sticks around the Cottage so that we could build "fires" in our fireplaces. (Also, because I wanted the Cottage to be cleaned up, and I didn't want to do it.) I'd sweep the floor in the Cottage...yes, I was sweeping dirt, sweeping the loose dirt into the walls to make them higher and the Cottage tidier. Bicycles were our horses, Big Wheels our cattle. We had couches made of logs, a counter made of dirt, plates made of Frisbees.
We gardened...sometimes by transplanting wild onions, sometimes by planting real flowers from the hardware store in the Cottage garden. Mine died. Bekah's lived. Typical. I planted wild onions along the front walk to the Cottage because Mandy in Julie Andrews Edwards's Mandy planted things at her cottage.
We dug a cellar. Yes, we dug a big hole in our backyard. We didn't ask first, but we didn't get in trouble, and actually didn't fill it in until years after we'd grown out of playing in the Cottage. We'd pretend there was a storm and we had to take shelter in the cellar...until I got sick of the boy from two doors down doing nothing but pretending there were storms and started ignoring most of them. We dug steps up the hill to the Cottage, again, without asking first, and our dad finished them off with landscape timbers. It's funny to me, we always asked before playing a computer game or watching TV because too much screen time is bad for you and so it was limited (even as a kid, I would get a headache after watching a movie sometimes), but we dug up the backyard on a regular basis, and it was no big deal.
We'd often play my favorite game: Run Away From the Orphanage. You're in a terrible orphanage with a cruel matron, and then you sneak out at night and set up housekeeping in the middle of nowhere. Which I realize now is sort of a blend of Annie, Samantha, and The Boxcar Children. We played that at so many park days with our homeschool group, and in the Cottage sometimes too.
We hit tennis balls against the side of the house (it was brick), pretending we were a part of a big sports program we invented called Seven Sports. We got pretty good at returning balls too, though I'm sure our form is horrendous. And we got four tennis balls stuck in the gutter at the top of a two story house. We've got talent.
We built homes and acted out stories with our plastic horses in the sand box. Made traffic jams with the matchbox cars. Set up Little People towns.
We never had actual Barbie houses, as much as I wanted one...so we made our own out of cardboard and construction paper and glue and tape. We built stairs, furniture, kitchen cabinets, knitted bedding, created miniature books and toys out of paper and Sculpey. Just like a real house, we were always making improvements to our Barbie houses. I also made Bekah a Barbie RV out of a cardboard box for her birthday. In some ways, making the houses was more fun than playing Barbies.
Not that we didn't play Barbies. Our Barbie dads ran for office, they all traveled the Oregon Trail, they starred in movies that we pretended to film... And then there was Galaxy's Got Talent—the Star Wars version of America's Got Talent. Yoda, Princess Leia, and Darth Vader judged, and Death Star Droid was the host. We had "Hip Hop Luke" and "Pointe Anakin" and "Storm Trooper Band" and R2 demonstrated his talent of staying with the ship. "Storm Trooper Band" won.
During campaign meetings in 2004, we always built a castle downstairs at our house and played in it. I was always a servant with my friend (except for the time she abandoned me to play the princess). We were Hattie and Jane Campbell. During a moms' Bible study at our house, we would build a town. I was the librarian.
We built things out of chairs and blankets. One time, I remember it was a car. One time it was a library. I used a couch as a bookshelf and read Because of Winn-Dixie to my sisters inside. We read all the time. To ourselves, to each other, our parents to us at bedtime, our mom to us for hours over lunch. Books fueled our imaginations. Addy and I acted out lots of things from books. We did several scenes from Narnia, one day, we acted out the entire book of From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. We also went through a phase where the three of us acted out the Lucy meets Mr. Tumnus scene from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) about every day with our stools stacked up in the living room and a lantern on top for the lamppost. A lot of what we did came from books. Some of what we did, I don't know why we did it. (Like Jacob's Leg. Addy's Barbie dad fell apart and...she kept his leg. Jacob's Leg directed movies. It's weird, but it's a thing at our house. "Jacob got his leg amputated. Ew, ew, ew, ew ew...")
Imagination is so much more awesome than playing phone/tablet games all the time. And if I ever have kids some day, I definitely want them to spend lots of time using their imaginations...even if it means eating unicorns for Thanksgiving.