Free Fun


In search of a baby shower gift for Bryan and Stacey as they await the birth of their first child in August, Becky, the girls, Dave and I drove to Savannah earlier this month. Since Babies R Us conveniently connects to Toys R Us, Becky, baby and I shopped for baby gifts  while Grandpa and Little Stuff explored the fun in the toy store. No need to buy — just let the kids play with the display toys marked “Try me.”  Too many toys do everything, leaving little room for imagination and free play. Purchase the toy and kids will quickly abandon it. How many times can that stuffed dog sing “Bingo?” OK, you buy it and find yourself  wanting to scream after the first day or two. But hold on. The toy quickly falls to the bottom of the closet because pushing buttons that make Dora say “Excelente!” and “Vamanos,” don’t do much for imagination.

Have you ever seen a child make up a totally new use for a toy that merely does the same thing repeatedly? Kids put the toy on their heads, want to bury it in the sand, or paint it with finger paints. I remember our boys making “forts” out of almost anything. One Christmas we gave them hammers. nails, some old wood and a place to build a fort in the back yard. They loved it, built it, tore it down, relocated it, and had a great time taking on the world.

I watched Little Stuff go quickly from toy to toy, sampling each offering once, or perhaps, twice. Then she moved on to the next musical or educational attraction. Push the button, turn the knobs, listen to Elmo giggle, or watch piano keys move by themselves. As she listened, Little Stuff danced and laughed. However, few toys captivated her. She danced her way out of the store and suffered her only teary disappointment when she was not allowed to use the swing sets.

By contrast, I watched her anticipation over her sidewalk chalk, fishing pole and bubbles.  Her Mommy has a fantastic imagination and draws large beach umbrellas, huge shovels and pails and a glorious sun. She talks with her daughter about a summer outing to the ocean. Soon Little Stuff draws her imaginary friends, Kara and Dara, from her mind and wants to know if they can come too.  In the afternoon, she and I may return outside and write a huge WELCOME HOME for Daddy to see when he drives into the driveway.

We spent part of one afternoon just watching Little Stuff chase the bubbles Mommy blew in the backyard. Dish soap and glycerin went into a bottle, and we added a large wand. She blew some of the bubbles but just giggled and ran after the ones that flew aloft. How long were we out there in that 90-degree heat? Blow the bubble, chase it, watch it float skyward, see where it pops! Sometimes she focused and ran in circles; other times she laughed when the bubbles popped against a bush or the back deck’s pergola.  She had a grand time, one that I know will repeat many times this in the months. So here’s to a summer of more simple pleasures than expensive toys!

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