The thing is, I wasn’t one of those kids whose world was filled with wonder and magic and rainbows—by any stretch. I wasn’t abused or the victim of something sinister or anything like that. It’s just that I was ridiculously shy. And my parents were too busy working opposite shifts at tiresome factory gigs to arrange play dates or walk my brother and me to the park or sit down to a raucous game of Monopoly—you know, do fun kid stuff. They had enough energy for work Monday through Friday, bowling league on Saturdays, church on Sundays, and then more work the following week. Kid entertainment? Well, I was in charge of finding my own joy, and it had to come within the confines of the four walls of our Long Island, NY home.
So I tucked myself inside of myself—especially in the summertime, when I retreated into fantastic books like The Secret Garden and The Little Princess and all things Judy Blume. When I wasn’t reading, I was off in a corner somewhere, teaching myself how to cornrow my doll’s hair, or fashioning miniature mansions out of cardboard and paper bags and little scraps of fabric and discarded doodads—my own little fantasy world.
I didn’t swim much.
Didn’t ride bikes much, either.
Didn’t see the inside of roller skating rinks or malls or concert halls or movie theaters—never felt hot beach sand under my feet or did cartwheels on the grass or felt the wind kiss my face as I soared higher and higher on the swings.
Alas, typical kid adventures were not a part of my childhood journey. Several decades, a husband, three kids, a dog, and a mortgage later, I still don’t do backyards or parks or bikes too much. I toss the ball around with my girls a couple of times out in our expansive back yard and immediately start swatting at invisible bugs and coming up with reasons why I need to be back in the house. Alas, enjoying nature is not natural to me—playing with kids about as easy as pulling a wagon full of bricks.
But I’ve got babies now and I try to tug on that wagon for them, because they’re active little girls who love to feel my hands on the small of their backs as I push them higher and higher on the swing and who long to curl their toes in wet, salty beach sand and splash in the rush of seawater slamming against the shore. They practice headers with soccer balls and line up their fingers against the stitches of the pigskin and rub grease in pink baseball gloves—erect colorful chalk cities on the concrete driveway and perform Olympic-worthy somersaults and back flips on the trampoline while our dog, Teddy, looks on lazily. Sometimes, they hang upside down on their humongous Rainbow swing set, talking about everything and nothing. And sometimes, they make seven-course mud dinners and study bugs, even as they scurry across their little fingers.
Neither finds any of this gross.
But I don’t try to steal their joy. They look over at me—always looking—searching my eyes for proof that mommy is pleased that they’re having fun. I just watch them from afar and shake my head and giggle, and wonder if I would have been a different, more fun mommy if I had parents who spent a few minutes or so enjoying the backyard they’d worked so hard to have—you know, stopped to smell the proverbial roses.
And then I point my face to the sun and drink in its rays.
And I promise myself to try to do a little better by my girls—to pull myself out of myself.
To let go and have a little fun.
For my girls.
And for me.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.