The school holidays is the perfect time for going on excursions, having adventures, and spending the day putting all your focus and energy into your children. Trips to the park and the swimming pool, excursions to theme parks and national trust properties, and family projects at home. All fantastic, all great ways of occupying your energy filled children and keeping their little brains active.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of this. In the days since school broke I’ve taken her to do various things and we’ve had a lot of fun, however, I don’t plan activities for every day and often leave her to occupy herself.
Partly because I’m cheap… days out cost money in fuel and food, even if the place you’re going is free, but most places have an entry fee. Partly because I’ve got too much to do of my own… with two books in the process of being written, a website being redesigned, a podcast being recorded, and a house full of VERY messy occupants I just don’t have time. Partly because I’m lazy… I love my biggest daughter with all my heart but OH MY GOD she is draining. But also partly, and this feels like the best reason though they’re all valid, for her own good.
I spent a lot of my childhood on my own and I rapidly became extremely adept at occupying myself. At home whilst the au pair was off doing her own thing and my parents were working I would spend hours on end with my Sylvanian Families, my My Little Ponies, or my dolls. I would write stories, make comic books, or draw pictures. I would read books and dream one day of writing my own (certain that I’d become a literary sensation overnight… I still dream of this part…)
My mother’s mother would babysit me… I use babysit in the loosest sense of the term. She would retire to bed for an afternoon nap and leave me unsupervised and without setting up any form of entertainment for me. It was just assumed I would be safe, wouldn’t trash the place, and would occupy myself. I became very fond of her pin cushion (I wasn’t old enough to be left alone with a huge thing of pins if you ask me but whatever.) I would create entire worlds using the multicoloured pins as people and spend the whole time she was napping, and longer if she didn’t want to speak to me preferring to read or potter in the kitchen, lost in the pin cushion world.
Whilst I am both here with my daughter, something my own mother couldn’t be, and not a grumpy old woman, I could technically put the time and energy into ensuring Miss Rose is stimulated. But, often times, I don’t.
Today she has some vintage Fisher Price houses and their little plastic occupants (which belonged to my cousins), and she has her My Little Ponies (many of which were mine). And she has been left to her own devices whilst I work and feed the baby and recover from a stressful night and early start to the day.
Her mind has taken over. The drama between some of those ponies is quite startling. There has been fist fights and a magic lift, there has been a fire and an attacking swarm of vampire bats. She is creating a society and engaging in dynamic and fascinating conversations where people are wronged and governing bodies step in to ensure the situation is righted and apologies are made, where brave ponies arrive to save everyone, and where magical planets can be discovered.
If I was occupying her myself these imagination adventures would never have happened. If we were out for the day or doing an organised activity she’d never have had to use her brain like this.
I was a loner as a child and still am as an adult in so many ways. I love that my work doesn’t require human interaction, and I do not crave company. In many ways these are negative traits but my imagination is ALWAYS busy. My mind is always working away. I am still creating worlds. I am still using my brain to create new things rather than filling it with existing things.
And now my little girl is doing the same and I absolutely love watching her imagination develop. It thrills me. She is so creative!
There’s also the added advantage that she does not require entertaining so she doesn’t get bored. I never get bored. I don’t even know how to get bored. At least not when I’m at home. I often see posts from people complaining of boredom, but I have so many things I want to do, so many things I need to do, and too few hours to do even half of it. Miss Rose loves company and she loves time being put into her, but she can easily occupy herself. This makes my life easier. I can do jobs around the house or get on with work, and for the most part she will be perfectly happy with her toys or her colouring, and it leaves me free to do what I need to do!
Of course, a lot of my solitude was imposed on me and my sense of isolation wasn’t always a happy place. I wouldn’t wish that on Miss Rose in any way and that is a lot of why I chose to be a stay at home mother, and since I started working again why I am grateful it is a job I can do from home and fit around her and my baby girl. But it wasn’t all bad. And if I hadn’t been alone perhaps my brain would never have developed that way and the books I’ve written, and the books I am writing, would never have come to exist.
Will Miss Rose go into a creative career? Perhaps, perhaps not. She might surprise me and become an accountant, though so far she seems to be sharing my complete blankness when it comes to numbers! But whatever it is she ends up doing, and whatever it is she ends up loving, she’ll have a brain that is filled with imaginative skills to do it with.
So, fellow parents, if you’re feeling guilty about not putting all your time and energy into your child, for not creating activities for them every day, and for not taking them on daily exciting and educational excursions, stop! Sure, do all that stuff and do it with joy, but embrace the entertaining and educational value of leaving them to their own devices. They’ll learn things that can’t be taught any other way, and that’s something pretty special.