One day in August, I opened my laptop and went to a large department store website. Trembling, I clicked on toys. Then I went to the outdoor section and started to add things to my basket furiously, like my life depended on it.
Though in this case it wasn’t so much my life at risk as my sanity.
I broke all my own rules for shopping for the kids. I added every piece of cheap, nasty plastic tat to my basket if I thought it would keep them entertained. The sort of junk that’s terrible for the environment and is never much more than single use.
But there I was, breaking all my rules of sustainability, adding purchase after purchase. I was moving as fast as I could, because I knew that in thousands of homes across Melbourne, parents were doing the same dance, knowing that a new, harsher, months-long lockdown wasn’t going to end anytime soon.
Some of the things I tried to add sold out in front of my eyes as I nabbed some water guns, a bubble gun, one of those poles with a tennis ball attached to a long piece of elastic, as much coloured chalk as I could possibly ever need and eight $1 Frisbees.
They were added to the 25 or so heavily discounted crafting sets I bagged the same night from another website, as well as colouring books, sticker books and anything else I thought might keep Mr 4 entertained and give me a moment’s peace.
I learned so many lessons about parenting during 2020, but the most precious lesson I learned came sandwiched between a stack of $1 Frisbees and several boxes of coloured chalk.
Before I explain, let’s talk about Bluey.
Bluey, a children’s cartoon about a blue heeler and her family, has been a blockbuster hit for its makers since it first aired in 2018, not just in Australia but all over the world and certainly in the seemingly all-important American market.
I’ve never met anyone who didn’t adore Bluey (I think I would fundamentally mistrust anyone who even had a negative word to say about it).
It’s not perfect, and it has been criticised for some poor language choices that saw two episodes pulled, but for the very most part, it’s a great show full of beautiful stories and wonderful lessons for people of any age.
But the most endearing thing about Bluey is the way most episodes focus on play and games. Central to everything is imagination.
There’s nothing better than watching my son traverse his own universe in his play. Try on different roles, speak in different voices, live in different worlds.
We live in a world of horribly rigid expectations, constructs and rules; everything from identity to gender to work to education has a set of outdated, painful parameters that don’t allow for self-exploration and discovery.
Who doesn’t love exercising the muscles of their own creativity? While too many adults move away from enjoying their own imagination, watching and experiencing that joy vicariously in the innocence of a child is a freeing, wonderful feeling and, I would contend, why Bluey is so popular with adults as well as kids.
The Frisbees that arrived by express post weren’t actually Frisbees at all. The Frisbees were stepping stones in a giant game of “the floor is lava” which lasted weeks.
He dragged those Frisbees all over the front yard, the back yard, the living room, his little feet never touching the ground. He avoided falling into volcanoes, being eaten by dinosaurs, being run over by giant monster trucks.
The chalk drew paths, roads, signs, messages to his sister and his dad and me. He created backdrops for entire scenes and coloured like his life depended on it.
Truth be told, part of that particular thrill was probably derived from my explicit permission to draw on the walls. Well outside, anyway.
In the world we live in, when we’re not experiencing a global pandemic, imagination can feel like it’s in short supply. Often there’s no time for long-stretches of imaginative play at home, between parents working, kung fu class, language practice, AusKick, swimming class, music lessons and all the other things we try to squeeze into the time we have spare.
But during lockdown we did have time. Lots of time. Oodles and bundles of time to be filled, for some of us in small spaces for weeks at a time.
The seeds of imagination planted during lockdown have blossomed. It’s one of the most precious things my family gained during this time of immense challenge.
Each night this week, we’ve foregone showers to have baths instead, even though the baths take so much longer. That’s because our bath sits at the bottom of the ocean and as I wash my son’s hair, he tells me about the whale sharks or sea turtles he sees swimming by.
And you just don’t get those in the shower, do you?