My grandmother used to say, “Let’s go do something!”  It didn’t have to be much, but we weren’t going to be bored with her around.  At her house in Ardmore, Oklahoma, I used to spend my summer days looking at the stuff in her cedar chest, exploring the garage, swinging on the porch swing, picking pears from the tree in back, catching horned toads, walking to the ice plant, and going downtown with her to see my uncle at the bank or to the department store or to get ice cream.   We ran through sprinklers and sucked on Kool-Aid (the real kind with lots of sugar) frozen in ice trays into squares to keep cool.  I honestly never felt bored.

I’ve been thinking about how hard it is to be spontaneous these days.  I used to have a few friends or relatives around who were up for jumping up on the spur of the moment and doing something, but they have moved or are gone or are less eager these days.  My mother always told me to never turn down an invitation.  I try to remember that, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.  It’s the excuses that bother me.  Why not?  Some of my best memories are of times that nothing was planned and special things happened.

When I was a child in Tulsa, we didn’t know what we would do most days in the summer and we didn’t care.  There were swim lessons and golf lessons and a few structured things here and there, but most of the time we were left to figure it out.  We played in the yard, stringing clover together into necklaces and bracelets, played tag, ran in the sprinklers some more, played card games and board games, lay on the bed in front of a fan, chased the milkman for ice chips, brought home stacks of books from the library, caught June bugs, ladybugs, and grasshoppers in the day time and lightning bugs at night and then lay on a blanket and counted the stars.  There were always kids around, riding their bikes or walking down the street.  We would gather a group to play work up in our side yard.  Work up was baseball when you didn’t have enough for two teams.  We played for hours and I don’t remember a dispute over a call.

Today, I took my granddaughter to her swimming lesson and was looking at a schedule for day camp.  That looked fun until I thought about the difference between having everything structured and doing what you felt like.  Don’t get me wrong.  I understand the need for structure and the need to have planned activities when you’re in charge of a bunch of kids. And I like organized sports.  But, it’s not the same as just playing.  The other night I watched three of my grandsons in the pool, making up games as they went along.  They went from pool basketball to pool baseball to throwing a beach ball around to playing soccer with the beach ball, changing as they felt like it, making up rules as they went along.  Total joy!

I wish all kids could walk to a neighbor’s and ring the doorbell to see if their friend could come out to play.  I wish kids could play ball, any kind of ball, without practice.  I wish kids could make up games and draw when they want to and read a book because they love it rather than because it’s on a school reading list.  The things I’ve been describing were simpler when there was no television and most moms stayed home and there were fewer organized camps and lessons and activities.

The world won’t go backwards, but we can still try our best to find ways for our children to have free, spontaneous time.  Sometime, when you’re exhausted from work and just want to sit, pull yourself up and get everyone out of the house to a park for a walk or to a creek or something, anything, unexpected.  This applies to every age.  Old people – get up and get out.  Find a friend to take a drive, walk along the river, get ice cream. Or do it alone. It won’t kill you and it might even brighten your day.  Do Something, Anything you weren’t planning to do.

One thing about spontaneous actions is that they make you smile.  And we all need to smile a lot every day!

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