I am not one of those people who long to return to the days of their youth -- to a time when life was simpler. Growing up in the '70s and '80s was great, but frankly, the 21st century has a lot more to offer. I like getting more than three television channels. I like teaching in an air-conditioned classroom (unlike the ones in my high school in 1987). And I love that I carry in my pocket a device that offers me access to untold volumes of data, information, music, and literature -- even if I mostly just use it to keep track of my kids, stay in touch with college friends on Facebook, and watch funny puppy videos.
I'm also glad to be living in a time when my children aren't rolling around unbuckled in the back of a smoke-filled station wagon. They all have bike helmets. And they aren't allowed to drink from a garden hose -- because toxic chemicals are bad, no matter how old-school.
Still, with all the perks of living in the modern world, there are a few old-fashioned experiences I want to give my children -- things that offer a unique sense of joy and satisfaction.
1. Washing dishes by hand.
Maybe it sounds crazy, but to me there is something pleasurable about standing at a sink full of warm, soapy water. There's something relaxing about the circular motion of the dishcloth and the casual (sometimes meaningful) after-dinner conversations that occur between family members when I wash and you dry. I wouldn't want to do it every day, but hand-washing dishes together is a family ritual I want my children to experience now and then. Maybe it's the sense of accomplishing a chore together. Maybe it's the quiet moments in the kitchen before the busyness of homework and bedtime routines. But those moments together at the sink are sometimes worth the pruney fingers and the extra time.
2. Hanging clothes out to dry.
Again, not something I'd want to do every day, but standing barefoot in the grass on a sunny summer morning, hanging clothes out to dry is something everyone should experience. Why? Because it feels good. It feels wholesome and satisfying. And then, of course, there is the smell of sun-dried linens. Heaven.
3. Taking a walk.
I'm not talking about exercise. I'm not talking about hiking. I am talking about a good old Jane Austen-style stroll through meadows and along wooded paths (or maybe just through a local park or neighborhood). No hurry. No particular destination. Just breathing fresh air and walking for walking's sake. Why is it that nowadays all of our walking seems to have a purpose?
4. Writing letters.
Are handwriting and handwritten letters going the way of the telegram? I hope not. Research shows that there are many benefits of writing by hand, and I want my children to experience those benefits. Writing letters by hand gives them that opportunity, and so much more. When my daughters were younger, they each had a pen pal. I bought them lovely stationery and a box of colored pens. They sat on their beds and composed long letters to faraway friends, discussing everything from their favorite foods to their annoying brothers. Those letters not only served to bring friends closer; they also served as a creative and emotional outlet for my girls. And my girls got letters in return! I would hate to think of them going through childhood without knowing the joyful anticipation and then the utter thrill of getting a letter in the mail. That beats a text any day.
5. Counting back change.
When I was growing up, my mother owned a bookstore. When I was in junior high, she started letting me watch the counter after school while she caught up on paperwork in the back. One of my first lessons was counting back change. I was amazed by this simple technique. I was doing what seemed like complex math in my head! Of course, counting back change is actually really easy, but even so, there is something extremely satisfying about it (and it definitely comes in handy at bake sales). Last summer, when I was working with a group of my high school students on a fundraiser, I tried to teach some of them to count back change. They just looked at me as if I was trying to teach them to churn butter, shrugged, and grabbed their smartphones.
6. Wearing white after Easter.
When she was young, my grandmother never went anywhere without a hat and gloves. By the time my mother was raising her family, things had loosened up considerably. I'm not sure my grandmother ever got used to seeing my mom in jeans on a regular basis. But even in the casual decades of the '70s and '80s, there were still rules of fashion that most people lived by. One such rule was that it was forbidden (by whom, I never knew) to wear white before Easter. Not that this was a huge hardship -- but I do remember the delight of buying white Easter shoes. Of course, even today, we don't wear sandals in the winter or wool scarves in summer. We still have a sense of what is seasonally appropriate. But wearing or not wearing white was about more than appropriateness. White was symbolic of a new season. Symbolic of spring and all of its promises. Now we pull out our seasonal clothing as soon as it's warm or cool enough to get away with it. There's no universal day when we all put on our white patent leather or our white sundresses and sandals and say, "Hooray! Winter is over! Spring has arrived!" I miss that, and I wish my children could experience a few of those fashion dos and don'ts -- not because of propriety, but because they represent a time when people knew how to wait for things. Waiting, even for silly things like white shoes, made the celebration all the more joyous.
OK. So maybe I am a little nostalgic for a simpler time. I miss doing some things by hand. I miss not always being in a hurry. I want my children to know the joy of simplicity. That's harder now. It's a modern-day paradox that simplicity is an effort. It takes effort to unplug and to slow down. It takes effort to wait for things and to do for ourselves what our technology can do for us. No, I don't want to go back to the days of rotary phones and eight-track tapes, but I do think this evening my children and I will leave our phones at home and go for a nice, long walk that leads us no place in particular -- except maybe a little closer to each other.