Kids know how to keep it simple

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A large bowl of water. A container of bubbles. A ball and bat. A swimming pool or a swimming hole. Even a sprinkler.

There’s something magical about watching children at play with simple things that don’t cost a fortune. It fills us with joy and memories of our own childhoods.

I spent the first few days of vacation hanging out with my 7-year-old grandson and my 1-year-old granddaughter. Next week, my nephews, ages 4 and 10, will arrive from Kentucky for a little Auntie Angela and Papa Joe time. When these four cousins get together, it is noisy, chaotic and sheer fun. They will miss cousin Lena, but of course they will carry on.

We all have our special rituals. Grant loves to go to Target. Aaron, his little brother, comes right in and says “Auntie Angela, I’m hungry.”

I try to cook their favorite dishes – spaghetti or lasagna. Aaron loves veggies, Grant hates them. Papa Joe makes pancakes all around.

Austin will eat anything that isn’t nailed down. Ditto for little Ms. Olivia.

Once their bellies are full, they go back to the business of playing. Since it’s hot, they want to hit the pool. Forget the Georgia Aquarium or some other expensive attraction, give these kids a ball and some water and they are happy as clams in sunshine.

Last weekend,  Austin had one mission in mind: getting to the pool. We swam at his house and again in our neighborhood pool. A couple of weeks ago while in the pool, he turned a flip and chipped his tooth on the bottom of the pool. Since this happened on my watch, his mother was not happy with Mimi. My response: “How was I to know he swims with his mouth open?”

That’s a boy for you. Girls can be rough and tumble too.

Olivia likes nothing more than chasing her big brother around and she already has the battle scars to prove it. A cut lip, a swollen eye. It is not pretty. We pulled a long forgotten bright blue nylon play tunnel from the basement. Olivia wasn’t sure what to do with it, until her big brother showed her how to crawl through. And he didn’t just crawl, he ran-crawled – to her screams of delight.

We were mesmerized at how this simple activity brought them so much joy. Back in our day, we would play jacks or marbles for hours. In the evenings, it was kickball or tennis. We caught lightning bugs, sat on the porch with our Aunts and went on Sunday drives with our parents.

Aunt Pauline made the best hamburgers on the planet. Uncle Mack polished our shoes. Aunt Cakes fattened us up with her famous pies and cakes. When we were older, she taught us how to make pull candy. The temperature had to be just right for this winter ritual. Aunt Cakes would pour the hot sugary mixture into plates on her back porch. Our job was to pick it up and pull it until it turned from brown to white taffy.

Not long ago, a friend reminded me of how much fun we had as teenagers making pull candy and molded mints out of cream cheese and confection sugar.

Forget expensive toys. The needs of children are simple: a safe place to play, the watchful eye of an adult and plateful of good food.

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