I first started writing this post on September 30th of last year when we were in Australia. At the time I was amazed at how well the kids were responding to life without stuff. There was no question they missed their normal amusements–Gameboys, Playstation, Xbox, trading cards, plastic soldiers, legos, stuffed animals, puzzles, board games–but as soon as they were without their usual amusements, their creative powers kicked into gear. In 11 months of travel, they were never at a loss for games to play or things to do. Never did anyone utter the devil’s mantra: “I’m bored.” In the absence of brightly packaged, electronically engineered, mercilessly marketed gadgets, ordinary objects became treasures in the kids’ eyes. A teenager at a park in Matamata, New Zealand summed it up best when he watched McKane and the little kids hurling a 2-liter soda bottle filled with water and dish soap into the trees: “Cheap fun, eh?” The kids named this particular pursuit Soda Slammers, and it proved an inexpensive way to wile away many a free moment in the Kiwi countryside.
One day in Australia my allergies started acting up so I went on the hunt for my Allegra. I couldn’t find it amongst the medical supplies and had not a clue where my beloved antihistamine could have gone. Baffled I scoured our rental house only to find my pill bottle had become a bowling pin for Kieran and Asher. Somehow they had located a rubber ball and gathered an assortment of objects to stand in as pins on their makeshift alley.
The kids’ ingenuity increased with every continent we traveled. They continued to find new uses for plastic bottles; Asher entertained an entire restaurant staff in Vietnam for over an hour one morning by kicking one through imaginary goalposts. All things animal, vegetable and mineral took on new dimensions and became possible playthings. Pigeons–poor, hapless creatures that inhabit every corner of the globe–became the object of unwanted attention in the great mosque in Delhi and public squares in Samos, Greece and Cusco, Peru. Even fruit fell into the mix. Our veritable McGyvers of toys took the fragrant, low-hanging oranges of Colonia, Uruguay and turned them into bocce balls.
Now that we’re home, they’ve abandoned creativity and flung themselves shamelessly upon all the usual trappings. For the first week, the little two ran up and down the halls and stairways squealing with delight as they discovered long lost favorites in closets, drawers, and cupboards. Their rapture knew no bounds and for many days they were lost amidst mounds of playthings. Their grandparents went into their room periodically to make sure they came up for air, but for the most part we left them to their toy-induced frenzy. Dax had been reading a selection of short stories for his Creative Writing class, one of which was The Prodigal Son from the New Testament. The phrase that kept coming to my mind every time I passed Kieran and Asher’s room was “riotous living,” the words used to describe the fallen son’s behavior. All that seemed to be missing from their little den of joy were beer kegs and toga-clad fraternity brothers. Chairs were overturned, light fixtures were swinging, and clothing was strewn across every surface.
Now that they’ve had almost a month to adjust to life with stuff, the frenzy has died down and the floor has reappeared. What was neglected in the recesses of the closets before we left will be neglected once again and may even find its way to the local Goodwill if I have my way. We’re a far cry from our recent days of living out of backpacks, but maybe, just maybe, as the days go by, these kids will remember they don’t need “stuff” to have fun.