It’s a running joke among my husband’s coworkers that we are a “modern Amish family.” The nickname has less to do with how we dress (I could not rock a bonnet; also, I’m not aware of any Amish who wear Star Wars T-shirts), and more to do with the fact that they mistake our simple life for a “sheltered” one.
I don’t consider my family sheltered. We own a vehicle (two, in fact), use cell phones (smart ones, even) and rely heavily on electricity (coffee maker = Mom’s lifeline). Heck, we even use that Interweb nonsense to keep in touch with friends and family via The Facebook. We are not socially reclusive, nor do we keep our kids on constant lockdown in order to protect them from the big, scary world beyond our humble home.
However, some of our choices—like staying home to watch movies on the weekends, or considering a trip to the playground a social outing—tend to be viewed as hermit-like in today’s go-go-go society.
We rarely go out to eat. We don’t travel much. We don’t have cable or Wi-Fi in our home. And the latest technological gizmos? Forget it. Our largest single annual expense is our cumulative grocery bill, because food is—you know—a basic necessity. We live simply—frugally, you might even say—not because we have to, but because we choose to.
I don’t believe that kids need to be exposed to a million different things, or own all the trendiest gadgets, in order to get the most out of life. Nor do I think that I’m an irresponsible parent for making our home their primary source of recreation and entertainment.
In my experience, when you’re constantly busy, you don’t have time to slow down and reflect on what you’re doing. You don’t have time to take the experiences you do have and weave them into memories that will last a lifetime.
The phrase “Less is more” is a cliché for a reason.
When I think back to my own childhood, I remember simple moments. I don’t remember the details of our annual Cedar Point trips or the expensive toys I got for Christmas, but I do remember digging for worms with the neighbors. I remember sitting on my mom’s lap as she read me Little Golden Books.
Like diamonds forged from coal, my most treasured memories are born of the seemingly ordinary and mundane, but they sparkle, and their clarity and value are undeniable.
Those are the kinds of memories I want for my own children.
Memories like these:
–Sneaking fruit snacks from the pantry when Mom isn’t looking and sharing them with siblings in an elaborate fort constructed out of blankets.
–Throwing a bunch of stuffed animals on a bed and pretending it’s a pirate ship. “Walking the plank” to land in a sea of pillows, while Captain Hook prods you with the clothes hanger he has shoved up his shirt sleeve.
–Brewing “witch potions” in the backyard: using a stick to stir water, mud, leaves and bugs in a plastic bucket while muttering random incantations—then seeing the look on Mom’s face when she’s asked to taste it.
–Using broken tree branches to draw creepy-looking characters in the gravel driveway.
© Samantha Wassel
–Staging picnics in the backyard, telling creepy stories over a campfire, and waging hedge-apple wars with the neighbors (then showing off the bruises like they’re battle scars).
–Putting on fashion shows while wearing Mom’s old bridesmaid dresses, and strutting down the hallway like it’s a runway.
–Playing marathon games of Monopoly with siblings on a snow day, then sipping hot chocolate topped with rainbow-colored marshmallows.
–Lying on the concrete while a friend traces the shape of your body with sidewalk chalk, and laughing hysterically when Dad sneaks around the corner of the house to spray you with the hose.
–Licking cake batter off beaters and begging for just one more bite of raw cookie dough.
–Setting up a sprinkler in front of the swing set on a hot summer day, or splashing each other in a cheap plastic pool in the backyard.
© Samantha Wassel
–Turning the basement into a movie theater and personalizing brown paper “popcorn bags” with stickers and sharpies (and taking advantage of Mom’s free refill policy).
–Staging wrestling and boxing matches—Dad’s old socks serving as makeshift boxing gloves—and selling family members construction-paper tickets to the show.
–Picking out stacks of books to read on a rainy day, or going outside barefoot and dancing in the puddles.
–Catching fireflies in old iced tea jars and smiling when they light up inside the glass—then shrieking hysterically the moment one lands in someone’s hair.
–Taking long bike rides in the sunshine, and reveling in the reward of a well-earned slushy at the local ice cream shop afterward.
–Helping Papa plant his garden, even if it’s just an excuse to play in the dirt (because what kid doesn’t love playing in the dirt?).
© Samantha Wassel
I don’t want my kids’ childhood memories to be a blur of fancy hotel stays, nice restaurants, itinerary-driven vacations or expensive birthday gifts. I want them to remember what it was like to really be a kid—to be able to find the uncommon in the common, the extraordinary in the ordinary, and the beauty in simplicity.
Because once you become an adult, life becomes unavoidably—irreversibly—complicated.
In my eyes, I’m not sheltering my children from the real world with the lifestyle we’ve chosen.
I am showing them all it has to offer.