Monday, 23 January 2012

Oh, to be a kid again...

It seems like such a long time since I was a kid. The carefree days where the only worry was what mischief to get up to next, in a busy schedule of constant playtime interrupted only by silly things like eating, sleeping and school.

Those were the days.

The world seen through the eyes of a child is a wondrous, magical place, until we get older and the daily grind dooms us to a life of monotony and responsibility. The end of every school day brought such happiness to our young selves, a delight in the possibility of playing with our latest toy, or making houses and forts out of boxes and bedsheets at home.

The older you get, the less interested you are in playing with traditional childrens toys. The action figures are replaced by computer games, the Barbie dolls replaced by makeup and the latest fashion. The world becomes less a place of wonder and more a place of opportunity mixed with fear. Exams at school, going to college or university, finding a job or starting a career, moving out and beginning to act like an adult. It's a big, scary place out there, once you finally fly solo from your parents' nest and attempt to stake a claim to your own little piece of the world.

We never appreciate how great it is to be young until we become adults. As kids, we long to grow up quickly because we want to do what the big people do. Teenagers want to be old enough to drive and gain their freedom, and also to legally buy alcohol, whilst learning more about the opposite sex (once you get past the "ewww, girls have cooties" phase, that is). We want to be older so we can do the things that we think are the best parts about being a grown up, without considering all the extra burden the adults carry on their shoulders. Everything from bills to taxes to buying food and clothes, all things that children don't have to think about.

All they have to do, essentially, is be a kid. Play, have fun, use your imagination, be creative. Children, ultimately, are free. Ok, so they have to listen to their parents, do their chores and maintain a basic level of hygiene, but that's it. That's all we ask of them. The rest of the time they can do what they want (within reason, of course).

So many possibilities...
I remember growing up with my sister and my twin brothers, and all the games we would play together. Every summer we would get out our LEGOs and make a LEGO town on the floor of our bedroom. We would spend the entire summer just building things, occasionally adding a train track or an airport, which the little LEGO men would use to go on holiday (this usually meant putting them on the other side of the room until it was time for them to come home).

All the little LEGO men had names and their own houses; my first man was called "Stripey", mainly because he wore a stripey t-shirt. Ok, so my imagination wasn't overly stretched with that one.

The point is, nothing ever really happened in our LEGO town. It isn't the kind of toy that you play with, as the main idea is to use your mind to create something new. Occasionally we would spend an hour or so making it look as though their had been a car accident on the street, with bricks scattered across the road and the passersby looking on in shock or rushing to help. The rest of the time, we would build. The LEGO town would remain on the floor of our bedroom for the entire duration of the school summer holiday, and we would play with it for at least an hour or so every single day. LEGO is one of those timeless toys that inspires creativity, limited only by the depth of the child's imagination.

Plastic heroes
Action Man was another toy that was good value for money, as my brothers and I would play for hours making battles between the warring factions of plastic men. We would painstakingly set the scene, moving chairs, boxes, blankets and anything else we could get our hands on into place to offer hiding places to the defending army that was about to come under attack. In our minds we were building the enemy fortress, which the brave good soldiers would storm to wipe out the bad guys.

Hours would pass playing with our toys in this way, usually only ending because it was dinner time. It would then take an hour or so to tidy up afterwards, but we didn't mind because the game was so much fun.

When I look back at the days where every spare moment was a potential playtime, I always feel a pang of sadness at the realization that those days are over for me. I'm an adult, a husband and a father, with a job to go to and a whole stack of bills to pay each month. I have the responsibility of looking after my family. I can't spend my days building LEGO towns or helping Action Man defeat Doctor X.

Fortunately, all it not lost, as now I am a father.

My daughter has just turned nine months old, and is beginning to reach an age where she can play with her toys in a more meaningful way. Suddenly, I have realised that my toy-playing days might not be over just yet. I'm about to embark upon a playtime renaissance, and this time I'm going to make sure I enjoy it.

It won't quite be the same this time around as I doubt my daughter will want to play war games with action figures for boys. Action Man will instead be replaced by Barbie, and his guns and battles replaced by fluffy bunnies and tea parties. But at least I'll get to use my imagination again. I'll be able to switch my mind off of worrying about the finances and trying to act responsible and just have fun playing with my daughter, getting her to be creative and - above all - to enjoy her childhood.

As a bonus, some kids toys are aimed at both sexes. LEGO, for example, can be played with by girls just as much as by boys. I already can't wait for Lydia to be old enough to play with LEGO bricks (instead of eating them), as I think I will enjoy it as much as she will. In the meantime, we've already given her a tub of wooden building blocks to encourage her constructive side, and help her on her way up to LEGO town.

As you can see above, I've already started relieving my toy-playing days. I only hope that Lydia doesn't grow up too quickly, so I get to enjoy as much playtime as possible.


Belly said...

Yay! We are currently enjoying Lego Duplo and Eoin was VERY excited to get his old Brio out of the loft!
Have fun, Lydia, Mummy and Daddy! Xxx

nothingprofound said...

Our children do make us young again, because they give us a deeper appreciation of what it means to be young. They remind us what we've thrown away by buying into the world's madness.

Janey B said...

Great post. But as for your daughter: take your time on which toys to buy. Mine wanted only action figures and was a bigger Thundercats fan than her little guy buddy. My second daughter loved dolls. Now as adults, they are completely reversed. (Their mother, of course, still likes to drink and shoot and carry on...)

Paul Reed-Peck said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. I certainly enjoyed my trip down memory lane when thinking of the fun I had as a child, and I'm glad to see others share the same views.

@Janey B - you've reminded me how awesome Thundercats was. I had a Liono toy with glowing eyes, and had the Thundertank as well. In fairness, my sister didn't take to the 'Cats as much as I did.

Neil Killion said...

When my kids were small I'd build Barry Street (where we lived) every night out of wooden sticks. Now I build houses, streets and railways with my grandson. Just as much fun. What makes me laugh though is I'm the most useless, impractical male, but in the playroom I do look really good!
Thanks for this article.

Ekta said...

Kids truly give us a chance to live our childhood again. They help us get in touch with innocence and teach us that happiness isn't really touch. All you need is some sand toys and a tub of ice cream :)

Steph said...

You'll just have to keep having more kiddies so that you can continue playing with toys... Nan was 1 of 11 children you know ;)

BowAndArrowGames said...

Very reconizable!

I always liked to play stuff like Looney Tunes games and gladiator games like swords and sandals

And I also loved to read bedtime stories when I was a kid!

Chicken Space Invaders said...

I also like this space invader game. It is called neopede space invaders or electropede 2