I remember my very first doll. I was 9 or some age that is quite old for a first doll. My dad had won some raffle with the booby prize of two dolls. Luckily he had two daughters. My sister, by then 12, was too old for dolls so I took both. They wore purple and green ball gowns respectively but I worried about their lack of wardrobes to get their day-to-day errands done. And so I came up with the only solution I could think of. I cut up my old clothes and glued or pinned or sewed the dolls new ones for going to work and running charity boards and exercising. I had a lot of fun designing and creating. Not having anyone teach me how to play, I figured this is how girls were supposed to play with dolls.
I told this story to my friend recently and she expressed sadness that I was forced to make my own doll clothes. She had had countless Barbies each with their own store-bought wardrobes. It had never occurred to me that other kids’ parents bought them premade doll clothes or that dolls had full wardrobes. That seemed like the stuff of princesses in their castles.
But my friend was the normal one and I was the oddball. Our family was very used to creating our own fun.
My siblings and I were watching bowling on TV and wanted to play. My brother had collected box tops and sent away for a miniature basketball. Then we set up used 2L soda bottles as pins and bowled to our heart’s content. A decade later, my cousin bought her son a bowling set. That’s strange, I thought. Your kids can make those for themselves, you know.
Another weird thing my parents did is have vacations where we would drive to random cities. As middle class parents with three kids, we couldn’t go balls-to-the-wall every year. So while we did travel to Hawaii, Disney World, and Asia, we interspersed those trips with lesser known vacation spots like Kitty Hawk, NC, Dayton, Ohio and Pigeon Forge, TN.
You know that annoying parent advice that “only boring people are bored?” I was never bored. I had no idea what kinds of awesome toys other kids got and though I understood how lame our vacations were, I didn’t have social media to help me gauge how incredibly lame they were. If you have no idea what the exciting options are, how can you know that you’re supposed to be bored?
I think I would have been a completely different person had I not learned to entertain myself. Entertainment is often an exercise in passivity. You go to a city that’s so exciting that it entertains you. You have so many toys that you keep playing until they let you down. But when you have limits to how entertaining the city is, how many toys you have – you have to be more creative in how you have fun.
This may have mad me more creative but it also made me more active in determining my happiness. To be fair, Disney World was way more fun than Dayton Ohio. But I also have fond memories of Dayton. I know that I could have fun everywhere.
My nephew enjoys when I make up new games. Once we played the classic Whose Line is it Anyway game where you come up with different pantomines for the same oddly shaped object. And one day we went “bowling”: I set up some random bottles of lotions and conditioner at the end of the floor and rolled a stability ball. If he ever recalls this incident, maybe he’ll think, what a strange family this is. Our family is boring. Our family is poor. But I hope he will look back at this and remember how much fun it was, even though he didn’t have a proper bowling set.
Yeah going to a bowling alley is fun but if you can have fun spending less, you can have fun doing anything.