A question was posed on my message boards this morning.
It asked, "How many of us grew up without all the expensive extracurricular activities that kids grow up with today". It seems like most kids today have dance and sports, riding, gymnastics and all sorts of organized and expensive activities that their parents spend countless dollars on and immeasurable time taking them to and from.
As I answered the question, I was inspired to write about my childhood and its "lack" of expensive extracurriculars. We didn't do sports, nor dance lessons, nor martial arts, nor gymnastics. We spent very little time in the car and we rarely rushed anywhere. Were we deprived? Were we at a disadvantage in some way? Were we robbed of opportunity?
We did Girl Scouts from Brownies til we got our 5 year pins. I don't recall why it stopped. I do recall my mother's devotion to our activities. In particular, I remember a pet show we put on. We had our Siamese cat in a wicker basket. I don't even remember the actual event but I remember that it had been pouring and the car got stuck under the train bridge. It was a blue car my grandfather had given us and my mother hated it. It stalled at a drop of rain and here it was pouring buckets. This in the days before cell phones! Someone drove us to the other side of the bridge where Mom was and the transfer of kids and cats to the car was the stuff of legend. Up to our calves in swirling water, in the dark, handing over the big wicker basket with the cats in it, it was thrilling to us back them. But oh the feeling of safety when we caught sight of our Mom standing there in the pouring rain waiting for us.
One year my sister and I got to go to summer camp. I loved it, my sister hated it and came home. Mostly, summers were spent on the beach. In Hyannisport, with my grandparents, we spent the days in the sand and surf and tide-pools. Belly down hanging over the dock we would observe and collect for the day the wonders of the sea. Starfish, Pipe Eels, Puffers. We would go out on my grandparents sailboat, the Lello Baby, for the day with picnic baskets made by my grandmother. They were filled with things we didn't usually get to have, soda, chips and pickles. Hanging our feet over the bow in the spray we would sing while my grandfather played the harmonica. Gospel songs, sea chanties and folk songs were the order of the day. Fishing the Twin Rocks with drop-lines for Scup and Sea Bass. Glorious times and shorter lived than any of us would have liked.
Later on the scene would switch to Sandy Neck Beach. Out we would go in my father's red Scout, packed up and loaded for bear and the day out near the point. Arriving, we would wait in the line that had already formed (to my Dad's disgust) and as we waited the ritual of letting the air out of the tires for better traction in the sand would commence. (As would my Dad's comments on who was going to get stuck because they did it wrong.) Half the fun was pulling tourists out of the sand. Playing in the dunes, standing in the water until you went numb so that you could swim in that frigid North-side water. Gathering sand-dollars underwater on the submerged sandbars, grilling on the Hibachi, long walks looking for treasures with my Mom. Laying on a towel reading in the shade of the Scout. Heading home tired, making fun of the lobster red tourists who didn't know enough to put sunscreen on.
We grew up when it was still safe to let kids roam and roam we did. Across the street to the field to pick wildflowers and wild strawberries. Up to the power lines to pick blueberries and play Indians for the day. Down to the pond to swim and play on the tire swing. We'd cobble makeshift rafts together and play Tom Sawyer poling the thing, half submerged around the perimeter. We had King of the Raft fights with the neighbor kids and played under the raft in the airspace created by the large foam pieces that kept it afloat. Down to play until we heard Mom's voice floating across the water, calling for us to come home.
We had a Mom that colored with us and read to us. A gift beyond imagining. I remember her reading to us in the evenings. Once, during a storm, by the light of a pink candle in our bedroom. We didn't own a ton of books but we read over and over the ones we had. The My Book House series, even the Dictionary and the Encyclopedias were fair game. Little Women, The Secret Garden and the delightful books that arrived from the Weekly Reader Book Club!! Jerome, Miss Suzy, Miss Twiggley's Tree, Cranberry Christmas and more.
There were two libraries in biking distance and I would go and get all the books my heart desired. I had some I would read over and over again. Indian Captive, Jubilee Trail, Mrs. Mike, Christy, All Creatures Great and Small and others. I can still see Indian Captive in my head, it was yellow and when you opened it the wonderful pencil sketches that adorned each page were a source of fascination. Later on my mother bought me one of my most beloved treasures, a leather-bound set of the Lord of the Rings trilogy with the Hobbit. I can't imagine how many payments she had to make for them. I read them almost annually. I would go out to my favorite tree, put my books, my cat and some apples in the basket, climb up and haul up my stash and sit on my favorite limb and read for hours.
I had piano lessons and played on a piano my Dad, as I recall, got from a bar? It has glass stains and cigarette burns on it and I loved it. Later on, I exchanged babysitting for my lessons. I couldn't stand those kids. Oh well. My Mom loved to hear me play. I would play songs from the King and I for her, they were a favorite. "Hello Young Lovers" I would play and from the kitchen or her desk, she would sing along.
My Mom loved musicals and played them all the time. With our friends we would put on our own productions of West Side Story and the Sound of Music, Camelot and later on Grease in the playroom. From my Dad, I got my love of country music, which my Mom hated. He would play it downstairs in his workroom on the 8 track. I still love Nancy Sinatra's, These Boots Were Made for Walking. When we did dishes together after dinner each night, Mom would often lead off rounds of her favorites. And we would sing together while we worked.
We had a sandbox my Dad built and we would spend countless hours making mounds and creating in them fairy houses. Acorns, sticks, berries and what have you became furniture and tea sets and decoration in these playthings. In the world my mother created for us, fairies were as real as fireflies. The kind she would let us get out out of bed in our nightgowns, in the heat of a summer evening, to collect in a Ball jar and have til the morning beside our bed. We had a swing and a seesaw too, the stuff childhood is made from.
I know without a shadow of a doubt that whatever we missed out on from a lack of funds was and remains completely irrelevant. We were blessed with a childhood, the gift of time to be children and the raw material in which to do it to our heart's content.