I grew up with four siblings in a little house in the country on the Oregon coast. The five of us were very close in age, with spacing between children at 14 months, 14 months, 18 months, and 15 months. Mom was 25-years-old when the fifth child (my brother, the only boy) was born.
Know what that meant? Lots of fun! My mom and dad were both athletic and active. They were both exuberant and playful. So we grew up playing sports and running all over the neighborhood and having a grand time, whatever we were doing.
Dad forgot that four of us kids were girls, and he had us shooting baskets, smacking baseballs, tarring the roof, chopping wood, throwing bales of hay on a truck, and doing all sorts of things that many girls probably didn't do.
Mom did remember we were girls, and she was quite pretty and fashionable, so we also curled our hair and wore dresses and liked to do things in the kitchen. We learned how to shop clothing sales with the best-- Mom, who saw no shame in good-naturedly tearing (sprinting?) through the department store when the doors opened for The Hub sale (now legendary in our family). We thought it was great fun and admired our mom like crazy for her lightening-fast sale-shopping finesse!
My siblings and I had lots of energy and spunk. When neighborhood baseball or football games were going on, we were right in the middle of them, even when it was tackle football. We also played tackle basketball and tackle tag! (My dad was proud.) We could build forts and go-carts with the best of the boys. We could run faster than them and beat them in bike races. We explored the woods and canyon and knew where the best berries were. We could climb trees like we were monkeys.We'd come in the house, flushed and tired and happy, at the end of a day's hard play.
Mom and Dad were often out playing with us, too. In fact, Mom was such a hit with the neighbor kids, that they'd often knock on the door and say, "Can Wanda (that's my mom) come out to play?" She taught us to play volleyball (she played on a team and had a killer serve). She taught us a lot of fun, old-fashioned games.
My parents gave us a good amount of freedom and encouragement to use up our energy, as long as we were respectful and well-behaved. When the weather was bad-- and on the coast winters are rainy and windy-- we'd play hard inside. We were never stopped from roller skating through the house hard and fast (almost the only way we kids knew how to play). We'd sail from the corner of one bedroom, out the door, down the hallway, through the living room, and around the corner into the kitchen. We'd share the skates and skate with just one, pushing off with the other foot, like riding a skateboard. That way, we could race.
We played "stuffed animal wars" across the hallway from one bedroom to another, throwing stuffed animals as hard as we could at our "enemies" in the other room whenever a head would pop up. And we'd play hide and seek in the dark in our bedroom. There were two bunkbeds set up in there. We'd cover the windows and get the room as "pitch dark" as we could. Everyone would hide, and the seeker would then feel his way around the room to find the hiders, who were allowed to move around. Scary! :-) There was a lot of screeching and banging around going on in that room when we played this game, but my parents didn't seem to mind.
I love that my parents didn't have the view that children must be seen and not heard. Or that "polite" means too-docile and passive. I'm glad they respected our God-given energy and allowed for it. I'm glad they played with us. I'm glad they laughed and, in spite of the imperfections of our family, gave us such a fun childhood. I'm also glad that they expected us to obey and to be respectful. They built a wonderful family camaraderie that continues even now. I love my family!
I think we were raised with the same idea in mind that Teddy Roosevelt had for his own children-- a robust righteousness. Yes, we were robust, but we were good kids.
"Father plays tennis with Mr. Cooley (Father's shape and spectacles are reproduced with photographic fidelity; also notice Mr. Cooley's smile.)"
~detail from one of TR's "picture letters," scanned from Theodore Roosevelt's Letters to His Children
Have you read Theodore Roosevelt's Letters to His Children? Because if you haven't, I think you should stop what you're doing, locate the book, and read it. It is charming, heart-warming, funny, and refreshing. And everyone should read The One Bad Thing About Father aloud to their children, a little book about the rollicking good times had by the Roosevelt children and their father in the White House (they played hard in that building, and all sorts of animals-- including ponies-- came in, too!). The narrative of this children's book was derived largely, I believe, from Teddy Roosevelt's letters to his children.
This afternoon, something reminded me of the book of letters, so I went looking for it on my bookshelves. I have an old copy, printed in 1924, that I bought in a used bookstore many years ago. (I believe it has been republished in recent years.) The entire thing is made up of the letters Teddy Roosevelt wrote to his children, complete with the charming and humorous illustrations he included in those letters. I think the book struck me extra well because it was something of a serendipitous find-- I'd never even heard of it before the day I found it, and when I began reading, it was just the sort of thing I like best.
The book still makes me smile. Reading it years ago made me see my own children, and their needs, in a better way, and it inspires me still-- to respect childhood, to live life fully, to make the most of each day, and to value family relationships (time flies). If you haven't already, read those letters Teddy Roosevelt wrote to his children. If you're anything like me, you'll love them. (Yes, I'm raving. I tend to do that.)
I'm sure at least some of you have read this book already. Did you enjoy it as much as I did?
(See number one on my blogging guidelines below. I did not succeed with this post.)