When I was in elementary school, I was a cooking aficionado.
Every spring, as warmer weather took away the wet and frigid days of winter, I would begin creating culinary masterpieces that would take on complex traits and morph into entirely new dishes over the course of the summer. My kitchen was my back deck, and my ingredients ranged from grass to flower petals to dirt.
It was this game of “stew” that occupied the long hours of my summer vacations for many years. As I stood out on the back deck with my sisters mixing together backyard plants with water from the garden hose in a beach bucket, we would often take breaks to play other games. We would climb up trees and pretend to be Indians, lobbing down sticks from above in order to kill the imaginary deer that we would roast for our dinner that night. We drew complex maps of make-believe worlds on our driveway and scootered down the sidewalk-chalk “roads” to Timbuktu, which was always at the very end of the driveway, dangerously close to the street. On days when it rained, we recreated the Apollo 13 space shuttle in our basement with a mess of tables, blankets, and chairs and sat inside for hours, reading stories to each other and reenacting scenes from the Tom Hanks movie about that same mission.
I’m not sure exactly when I stopped playing those games. I can’t remember the last stew I ever concocted or the last time I pretended to be Jim Lovell in our own personal spaceship. But I do know that whatever part of my brain I used to spend hours in completely imaginary situations during those summer vacations so long ago has grown extremely weak from a long period of underuse.
Despite the freedom that comes from having a driver’s license and a later curfew and greater trust from my parents, it seems as though I, probably like most teenagers, have regressed in the area of creativity. We may not be confined by the boundaries of our backyards or neighborhoods anymore, but we are restricted by the lack of imagination that seems to come with growing up. It seems as though as we grow older and older, we play less and less. As we move through our high school years, our lives become dominated by schedules and routines. Each day’s focus becomes checking items A, B, and C off a list and then trying to get to bed early enough to be able to complete items D, E, and F the next day.
Now, as the busyness and schedules of school come to a close, we have another summer vacation stretching out before us like a blank canvas, just waiting to be splashed with the colorful paint of freedom. It’s an opportunity to exercise that neglected part of the brain, the game-generator and adventure-finder that all of us have but seem to forget about through the long months of school. I, for one, will be trying to create a canvas reminiscent of the stew-filled summers of long ago, complete with the bright yellows of laughter, the deep indigo-blues of late nights outside, the vibrant reds and oranges of adventure, and, most importantly, the vast array of colors that come from creativity.