There aren’t many things I miss about the US, but I do miss the big front yards where kids could play made-up-nothings for hours.
I am sad that my children won’t experience a natural, boring type of life to the extent I did.
In the most magical home I lived (and I’ve lived in over 30 places), we had a huge front yard but the back yard was actually a field with a creek lining the furthest border.
I miss the crawdads I used to catch in that freezing creek that trickled over broken tree limbs and burnt orange and yellow pebble sand. Our family was randomly gifted a croquet set, and my four siblings and I would play it in the empty, monotonous, swaying grass between the creek and a singular row of muscadine vine.
We’d use the muscadines as bullets when they started to rot, since fresh ones were off limits as ammunition. They felt too close like the real thing. At the end of the vine, a whole host of honeysuckles had overtaken, making it look like it had a crazy hairdo after too many months away from the barber. I drank the nectar like a queen but failed in a frustrated huff when I tried to make a honeysuckle necklace and crown.
Next to the back field was a hill with a paved lane, and when it snowed, we used makeshift sleds to ride it down to the dregs of black mush. An old man lived on top of the hill who gave out candy like he had no fear of neighborhood parents, and this may be the first time I’ve ever admitted to eating that candy without asking my mom for permission. One humid afternoon in the heat of South Carolina air, he taught me that bees only sting if you swat at them. Absurdly, he demonstrated this when he stirred one up into a frenzy with fast flicks of his hat.
The field near our house was filled with pecan trees that never dropped sweet, ripe nuts, but only dead ones or green ones. Or I suppose the squirrels got the good ones. One tree had a tire swing, and I spent hours pretending I was flying away, actively ignoring the sore red impression the rubber rim made on the underside of my thighs. Next to that tree, my grandfather helped my parents build a wooden fort with a bright yellow plastic slide and monkey bars for us all to play on.
I stepped on a nail for the first time in this yard, and my arm had a thin, straight scab down its entire length coupled with bruises for weeks after I fell from a tree. I still have yet to break a bone.
I once played in the porch sandbox during the winter until I couldn’t feel my hands. “That’s what I got” for taking off my socks and gloves; I really felt that life-lesson as my feet and hands felt a stinging, licking fire of pins spread across them as they warmed back up inside.
I do greatly miss this sweet type of rural life, even with its hazards, but it’s a child’s life in the country anyway. I couldn’t imagine living there now as an adult, with my only close-in-proximity friends being a purring cat or screeching cicadas, hiding in the night.
Instead of this hearty but secluded type of life, I’ve brought my children to a city with no yards, and the yards I frequently see I don’t want them to play in. But as I write this, during a cold, cold season where my kids wouldn’t be out of doors anyway, I can hear them downstairs, playing with their friend.
They go down and see him when they’re finished eating on some days. Other days, he comes to our house.
Just yesterday, my daughter dressed up as Elsa and she wanted me to braid her hair. When I was finished, she chased around my son and our neighbor, blasting them with ice. They ran around the whole apartment, jumping on beds and bouncing into the couch.
When I was growing up, we were allowed to play outside, but we had to ask before going into someone’s home (I presume for safety and because they could look out of the window and see us). But I like that my children are experiencing a different culture in another language, and they’re not missing out on childhood friends.
This year we’re going to really take them camping for the first time, so though I can’t connect to them in a nostalgic childhood like mine, I can still help them experience the wonder of nature.
Let’s just have a moment… What do you miss about your home country?
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Vanessa Jencks founded China Family Blog to connect internationally-minded parents through semi-humorous stories and China-life-and-parenting fails. She is the former managing editor of beijingkids magazine; see her previous work here. She is also the founder of the 600+ member organization, Innovative Educators.
Photo: Surfergirl 30 (Flickr)