Preserving Yesterday for your Kids

A watercolor illustration depicting Hobbes the stuffed tiger from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip holding the hand of a little girl as she walks in the forest. Hobbes has his head turned looking at a man behind who is waving. The man is a grown-up Calvin. The image caption reads: The Future. Don't put away your childish things. Save them for your child.

Or use eBay to reclaim your memories.

For anyone scratching their head, acquaint yourself with Calvin and Hobbes.

That Hobbes message about saving your childhood playthings for your future child (or in our case, grandchildren) is charming, but ya know, I’m on record controversially suggesting you let go of your favorite children’s books because the bulk of their useful life will be spent in storage while the pages physically deteriorate waiting for the hands of your grandchildren.

Additionally, most stuffed animals aren’t machine washable and you’d have to carefully store yours so they don’t acquire mildew over the next couple decades. And really, does your child need exactly the same toy you enjoyed, or just something similar?

The hardest part isn’t finding a stuffed animal that doesn’t have a backstory fantasy world pre-supplied by a marketer’s movie tie-in… no, the hardest part is uprooting yourself and moving to a community that still roughly approximates the childhood neighborhood you cherish (if you had a happy childhood).

For example, Calvin’s forest adventures with Hobbes or Christopher Robin’s Hundred Acre Wood.

Me? I’d like an empty lot with oak trees, wild grass that browns every summer and a creek where I can catch crawdads… at the end of my street. Instead, my daughter has an empty field that will be converted to high density housing with no front lawns by this time next year.

In keeping with the message in the Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing book, I may have short-changed my kids by virtue of the housing choices my wife and I made long before we had a child.

What from your childhood do you remember more — the toys in your room, or the outdoor area immediately surrounding your home where you played with friends?


13 Responses to “Preserving Yesterday for your Kids”

  1. Nancy says:

    I have stronger memories of my home’s outdoor area. Our yard was just over an acre and we lived outside of the city limits, so we had a miniature farm with chickens, goats, rabbits & other critters. Most of my time was spent outside in the warmth of the South Texas sun. Course, it never snowed.
    Now I’m in a similar situation as you, raising my son in a home with a 3′ x 5′ yard. I want to give him a bigger place to play and explore, but it would come at a price we can’t afford…. money-wise inside of town, or time-wise outside of town.

    September 9th, 2009 at 7:42 am

  2. anjii says:

    I’ve always had a strong sentimental attachment to stuff, and I did have the foresight to keep a lot of my stuff (including books) for my kids. I’ve also replaced things I lost (or mom got rid of), thanks to garage sales and thrift stores.

    I also have MANY wonderful memories of my neighbourhood (5 different rental houses through my elementary/early high school years, but all within a few blocks of each other). I’m also very happy with the home we’re raising the kids in, but it’s a trade off. We “work for rent” on a chicken and raspberry farm, where we have a HUGE fenced backyard and a large (but well aged) house. I love the experiences and space they have here, but we’re also in the middle of nowhere on a busy through road, well traveled by semi-trucks. They’ll be missing out on the opportunity to ride bikes around the block, walk to a friends house and just “go play” in a neighbourhood. All playdates involve driving somewhere, or someone driving here, and they’ll have to be driven to and from school everyday. I always wanted to live on a quiet, low traffic cul-de-sac, near a school and with lots of kids to make friends with. But what we have is truly a blessing, just in a different way.

    September 9th, 2009 at 8:22 am

  3. Susan says:

    I am an indoor girl at hart and never played much outside. I do however have very fond memories of playing outside in my old and very urban neighborhood. Mostly it was the kids I played with not the area we played in that mattered. Since there were lots of kids around my age on my block we would all get together and migrate between houses as we played. For the most part we played out and around the houses as the parents adamant that our crazy loud mixed gender group of 8-10 year olds play outside because we drove them nuts inside. One of my favorite games was capture the flag where we would weave in and out of our collective yards in pursuit of victory. What is missing these days is a sense of neighborhood where you get out and share life with those you live next too. Also missing is the sense of safety sending your kids out to play and overcoming the easy entertainment found in front of a video game or TV.

    September 9th, 2009 at 9:29 am

  4. KGS says:

    I grew up in a city, and wasn’t allowed to play around the neighborhood unless an adult knew where I was at all times. Two outdoor areas were a big part of growing up, though. We were lucky to have a fairly large backyard with a fenced-off dirt area where kids could dig huge holes, build forts with scrap lumber we kept lying around, and generally make as big a mess as we wanted, which in some ways replaced the traditional vacant lot for my friends and me. My family also camped a LOT (about every other weekend) in national forests and spent time at a remote cabin owned by extended family, where my brother and I spent unsupervised messing-around time outdoors (once we were old enough not to get lost, anyway).

    We have a very small yard, and rarely camp, both of which I regret somewhat. On the other hand, my daughter spends a lot of time most summers on archaeological digs with me. I hope this kind of seasonal outdoor messing-around time can to some extent replace the more constant version I had.

    September 9th, 2009 at 10:18 am

  5. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    The toys and books I played with indoors. And the places we went as a family. I was not a big player-outdoor.

    September 9th, 2009 at 11:43 am

  6. MoJo says:

    Definitely the outdoors. I have so many memories of fantasy play in the redwoods or the garden. There aren’t too many indoor toys that I really remember. A healthy imagination outdoors is something I am really trying to recreate for my kids.

    September 9th, 2009 at 12:09 pm

  7. Diana (Ladybug Limited) says:

    I still have most of my kids’ books, but it’s the plum tree and the rest of the backyard that I have specific memories attached to.

    You have got to read Last Child in the Woods if you haven’t already– all about the need for that empty lot more than any toys.

    In fact, we bought the house we did a year ago (even though it was 1 bedroom short!) because of its outdoor space– we’re at the end of a private drive, so our kiddos live outside riding bikes in the “street” or exploring the yard.

    September 9th, 2009 at 1:44 pm

  8. PAUL says:

    AJ, I still have fond memories of the oak tree-filled, brown grass having, crawdad filled creek at the end of your street. I drive by the condo complex that replaced it at least once a week when I visit my parents. Sometimes I even have appointments with customers who live there. I never go by without thinking about how much fun you, RB, and I had there as kids. I understand your feeling like you may have shortchanged your kids, but fortunately there is no shortage of beautiful, open spaces around your current home to visit and enjoy. I feel fortunate that directly across from my front door is a 200+ acre wetland preserve that the kids and dog can go out and enjoy exploring…though the overhead high-voltage power lines will probably sterilize them or give them brain disease. I showed my daughter the funky old Winnie the Pooh I used as a kid, she thought it was neat that something so old survived, but viewed it primarily as a novelty. I don’t hold to the notion of hanging on to old stuff for the sake of it being old. I have a few nice things put away, but mostly want the kids to not be pack rats…stuff is just stuff.

    September 9th, 2009 at 4:08 pm

  9. Mary says:

    I remember the outdoors better than the toys. I remember my brother, my friend and I getting lost in the woods behind our home in New Jersey. I remember the hours spent playing capture the flag in over-sized fatigues with the neighborhood kids. I remember climbing trees, building tree forts, and pretend to rough least until dinner time or bed time.

    What I remember most from childhood though isn’t the toys or the outdoors. It was the people. My family, my friends, my teachers, my classmates, and my neighbors.

    As for preserving the past, I believe that well told story and pictures may be sufficient enough. Maybe a few old things – especially the handmade stuff – are things I intend to hold on to. A few crocheted items from my grandmother. Recipes handed down to me from my mother and grandmother. Things of that sort. I don’t want to hold onto something that may just sit in boxes for decades and perhaps only reopened by my children or grandchildren after I have passed on where they have no clue what made it so dear to hang on to. Things are forgotten. People and memorable places usually aren’t.

    September 9th, 2009 at 5:55 pm

  10. Jenn says:

    I’m a reader, so I remember reading anywhere and everywhere I could take a book, and that was usually outside. In the summer my mom would feed all of us 5 kids breakfast then send us on our way outside, locking the door behind her. We came back at lunchtime, then were sent back out again until dark. My entire childhood was basically spent outside, with very very little television….needless to say I’m a bit of an indoors kind of gal these days (still reading though!).

    As much as I prefer the indoors, I still try to encourage my two girls to play outdoors. We live in Southern Calif. and with the summer days topping out over 100 degrees, it’s not all that possible to be outdoors too much. Also, with the times we live in, it’s not possible to send my children out the door and tell them to go play and be home by dark.

    My girls get creative inside the house though, creating “caves” for their “guys” using blankets and closets. Random household objects become vehicles for their “guys” and shoes inevitably become beds and such.

    September 9th, 2009 at 7:24 pm

  11. Katie says:

    Neither. The things I remember most about my childhood are the things my parents said to me and the things we did together as a family. Of course, in my case, a lot of those memories are quite negative, but that helps motivate to make sure that I am creating memories for my kids that they will look back on fondly.

    September 9th, 2009 at 8:49 pm

  12. Scott says:

    What’s stopping you from moving to an area more like the one you dream about?

    - If you don’t have the money, you can allocate more time to save.
    - If you need to be close to work you can find a new job.
    - If you want to be close to family then perhaps they would be willing to move too.
    - If you think your kids will be too old to appreciate it? Get them involved in talking about moving and the sort of place they’d like to live in.

    September 10th, 2009 at 6:13 am

  13. Jennie D says:

    A mix of both.
    My husband & I bought a house across from the house I grew up in, so our son has the same general environment that I did. Of course, it’s more developed and times have changed, but there’s a lot of protected wetlands & and woods that develepors have been threatening to build on for ages. I’m hoping they’re still there when my son is old enough to play on his own.
    As far at the toys go, my parents saved a lot of toys/books from my childhood. They’ve brought joy to my son & the same with his fathers toys. I’ll be carefully boxing up a few special items of my son’s for my grandchildren, but I don’t plan to go overboard with it.

    September 10th, 2009 at 6:17 am

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