Paul and I are not very good at remembering to pack toys for our children when we travel. For Paul, it is not a necessity. The military planner inside him has to make sure each and every item we take is absolutely mandatory and has its own spot whether it is inside the cooler, in the tent bag, or on the hitched trailer in its own protective rain gear. For me, I just do not think about toys. I think about books. “Kids, do you have a book to read,” is something they will probably put on my tombstone. It is one thing I cannot live without, so obviously I think it is necessary for everyone to include in their luggage. For instance, last summer we went camping on Lake Michigan en route to visit family in MN. The kids met friends a few tents away who had bikes, however, we forgot those at home. It was a travesty.
This summer we went to Aruba to visit their grandma for sixteen days. I made sure we had enough clothes, goggles, and swim suits, but I completely disregarded the notion of toys. Paul made sure we were not over the 50lb weight limit on our two bags, and also that the kids didn’t have to worry about carrying stuff on the plane aside from a diaper bag, snacks, and few electronics. Needless to say, when we arrived, we were set for our half month stay. Aside from toys, that is, to what we presumed to be the peril of both older children. Doomsday.
However, our kids astounded me. They played. Imagined. Swam. Played and imagined more. Pretended they were World Cup soccer players and announcers that, “Oiy yoy yoy, yoy yoy!” and “Goaaaaaaaaaaaaal!” They went on walks and hikes through the front yard hunting lizards. They climbed trees even though some may have held climbing crabs, or worse, boa constrictors, among their branches. They talked. They laughed. They argued. Discussed. Negotiated. Played balloon volleyball and balloon tennis. For 16 days, they rarely complained of boredom. They even read a little. At one point grandma did purchase a paint set for one, and Legos for another, but they had nothing of their own to play with aside from their collaborative minds.
Today I find that we try to occupy our children so much that we disregard the true idea of free play. We are so quick to hand them our iPhones, iPods, and iPads that we forget what is truly worth developing: their own imaginations. We are so quick to distract them that their behaviors become attuned to a screen. We are so quick to take a parent break that we forget what is truly important: raising children who can think, devise, strategize, plan, and create.
So throughout our travels with children we have made huge mistakes. Forgetting diaper bags and swimsuits on a trip to the beach, forgetting shoes, and sunscreen or bug repellant, but what I am most proud of is the fact that my husband and I have forgotten toys that have taught our children how to play…better yet, we have learned that it is most important to allow them to play. It is an instinctual activity that many parents today take away in lieu of desperately needing to breathe, to have free time, to enjoy a glass of Moscato, or a silent room. I urge you to let your kids discover their imaginations again. Allow them to play, to learn, to grow. I am so grateful my children have taught Paul and I the importance of this. They have blessed us with what is truly necessary in life: making memories through play.