Vacation in the land of imagination
by Caroline Sutton
When I was a young girl, I spent most of the year dreaming and pining for those wonderful months of summer-days filled with sandy feet and sunburnt noses and evenings spent lying outside, looking up at the sky with my sister and parents, as we pointed out constellations and shooting stars. My sister, who was only a year younger, was happy to be led into never-ending adventures as we entertained ourselves with sticks and rocks and built fairy huts under the pine trees and caught snakes and toads. One summer we rescued a baby bird and nursed it back to health. Another summer we fed baby raccoons off our deck almost every night.
We lived in a big city. But nature encroached on us, and we cherished it. We built forts with our neighbors and declared ourselves the rulers of our kingdom. We became detectives and made posters with our 'services,' which we stapled around the neighborhood. (Lost your cat? We will find it!) We built boats out of the woodpiles in one neighbor's yard, with only one nail/hammer injury. My mother set up tea parties in the backyard and blankets on sticks, and we were given free rein to enter her closet to dress up and walk our pet dogs (stuffed toys on strings) down the block. Our bikes were our stallions, and we named them Black Beauty and Northern Dancer and galloped on wheels around the neighborhood.
Now I am older and the leader of my pack of nature-loving dreamers. We count the days until summer vacation arrives, not because my children are desperate to finish school-they all love school, in fact-but because with summer comes imagination, the ability to live in a two-month dream of magical adventures that only kids have.
Yesterday we all visited a nearby lake. The boys climbed aboard an $11 inflatable crocodile and paddled out to "the ocean" to fish for sharks. They dug tunnels in the sand and built castles that
"reached the sky." They ate magic fruit (watermelon) that gave them superpowers and turned their arms pink. Several nights ago, my husband set up his telescope, and we lay out at night and counted the stars, looking for planets and imagining that we were all astronauts ready to explore the universe. The children pitched their tent and pretended it was a spaceship.
Their quest for adventures excites me, and, even as I get older and my back hurts more and it's taking a little more willpower to keep my eyes open as the kids are counting those stars, I am still in love with the magic that summer can bring. I can't help but want to climb into that tent and also pretend it's a spaceship. After all, for one entire summer of my childhood, I too was planning to grow up and be an astronaut. I never realized that becoming a parent would give me access to my childhood again, the enchantment of not only inspiring a little magic in the day-to-day, but also reliving it.
My sister likes to call me on the phone (she lives quite far away now and can't play with the kids as much as she'd like). She'll say, "What are they all up to today? Did they climb any mountains or find a deserted island?" She was really keen to hear about my six-year-old's crocodile adventures. "Do you remember the summer we lived on the cloud?" she asks. "Oh, that gives me some ideas," I say.
And perfect timing, because my youngest explorer has just climbed up on my lap and asked me, with wide-eyed curiosity, what sort of adventure we will have tomorrow. "I know the perfect place to go," I said. "But you have to think like a bird!" "Oh mummy! I love birds," she says, and off she goes, pretending to fly through the house and calling the other members of our flock to tell them we are going to see some birds tomorrow. And I know, because we live in beautiful Ann Arbor, that it will be a breeze to find a wonderful place to visit some birds.
[Originally published in July, 2013.]