Yesterday as I was driving through a tree dappled street I passed an elementary school that had already been dismissed for the late Friday afternoon. The school yard was deserted but for a lone young girl swinging on a swing. She had a purpose and determination and she swung with power and intent. She was all alone with her thoughts and dreams as she pumped herself higher and higher into the sky. I pulled over to watch her focused ritual . And I was transported back 50 years.
My childhood home was only a cross street and a block away from my own elementary school. They had an awesome swing set. As a middle child I often felt the parental gaze touch on me as it passed by to focus on either my older or my younger siblings. In so many ways I felt invisible which actually served to allow me to foster a rich imaginative life. It might sound strange but the motion of the swing was the vehicle that allowed those dreams to fly. I remember many sunny evenings after dinner when I would go by myself to that swing set and swing so hard and so high just like that little girl in yesterday’s school yard. And then the dreams would fly.
That swing would transport me across time and space. I could go to Paris or to Narnia. I could go to outer space or to King Henry’s England. I could be an explorer or a dancer or the toast of London town. The joy of having a vivid imagination is something I always wanted for my children and I fostered that as much as I could. Books, stories and adventures. I sought out ways to stretch the boundaries of this world in a thousand different directions.
It’s interesting that this type of mental exercise is sometimes considered frivolous or useless, especially in adults. I had been told many times that indulging in fantasies are childish things and I should stop indulging myself. That I needed to become more realistic as I grew because the world was not how I saw it. But that is like asking a genie to return back into that tiny bottle. There is no way to do it.
I was pregnant with my second child when my son was only three. I knew his imagination was deep and strong because he could play on his own for hours and never get bored. I recall buying him a small Lego set of a desert island with a pirate or two and that small set changed its configuration in a hundred different ways. Vivid imaginations are creative and they problem solve. Do we have to go to other realms or worlds or realities to come up with those solutions? I say yes.
Once my daughter was born we all indulged in lots of fantastic play. Forts made out of pillows and blankets. Scary stories by dim night lighting. Dress up and laughter and running to meet with world with capes flying behind them.
It’s unfortunate that in this 16th year of the 21st century, children are connected more by electronic means than by any other medium. Not that technology has not enhanced our lives. Those worlds that had only been alive in imagination have been able to come to life by digital wizardry. But the ability to entertain oneself by way of mind exploration seems to be falling by the wayside. Perhaps that is just my perspective. Being a child of the 50’s, physical books were my refuge, libraries were my temples. Now a child’s world can be held in the palm of their hand. Certainly all manner of information can be Googled but I can’t shake the feeling that something has been lost.
Today even my staunchest book lover friends assure me that electronic readers are the way to go. They are easier to travel with when one can load multiple books into a small tablet. I have not yet gone to the dark side with that technology but I don’t say that I never will. In the end what is important is how my imagination processes the things I am reading. Which brings me back to that girl on the swing. Her body was pulling those links tighter and tighter as she flew higher but her mind was nowhere to be found. I would not give up those hours I spent on those swings, as the sun slowly turned the horizon to mauve and I could hear my mother’s voice calling me back home. I would have traveled a million miles before my feet took me back to reality.
To the naysayers who believe that such joy is nonsense, I say I pity you. I could not have lived this life with only the things I can see and touch.