Originally written for The Review, a weekly print magazine by Dawn, Pakistan.
Image credit: oneheartforpeace.blogspot.com
When was the last time you were confined to a place for four days, without an internet connection, with virtually no television, and had four children as your only companions? Well, this is precisely the situation I am in. How I ended up in such a place is a long story — one that I must save for another time — but here I am, in this unfamiliar place with four kids to keep me company.
The closest internet connection that I can use is in a coffee shop at least 20 kilometres away and whilst there is a TV, there are no channels I care for. Thankfully, I have a pen and a diary to record my thoughts!
Four eager faces look up expectantly at me, and I don’t think I can come up with yet another exciting game or a good story to tell. Moreover, boredom is enveloping me like a particularly overwhelming cloud of dreariness and I long for some enjoyment.
The children insist on playing in the playground outside and I reluctantly follow them outdoors. In any case, I have nothing better to do.
As I wander listlessly out to the playground, an abandoned bicycle catches my eye. I get on the seat and try to pedal ahead and much to my surprise I can still find my balance. I move uncertainly ahead and soon notice that the rear wheel is deflated and hence give it up, but I make a mental note that I will start cycling again. Although I wonder how, as a child, I never noticed that the seat is rather hard and unfriendly!
I cautiously climb onto the trampoline next, and once my legs get used to its bouncy surface, I jump as high as I can. It’s a great feeling and I fall a couple of times too, and because I fall on the trampoline, I spring up in the air in an awkward sitting position but thankfully I don’t get injured. The little ones around me (two of them my own) laugh at me, and I laugh right with them.
Maybe those play areas featuring colourful bouncing castles for children should have separate trampolines for adults as well, because, seriously, they’re fun.
A few minutes later I am sliding down the slide — but I don’t go more than a couple of times because the slide is not quite as slippery as I had hoped, and to be honest I’m slightly afraid that the whole structure with stairs and tunnels and slides might give way. After all I am… err… slightly overage. Next I test the strength of the push swing by pulling the chains and happy that the swing responds in a satisfactory manner to my relentless pulling, I promptly sit on it. As the swing goes high up in the air, I feel light and liberated as though I were flying.
Pretty soon I’m looking back at my childhood wistfully, marvelling at how quickly it slipped away. I am transported into another era when things were rather different and I had no responsibilities weighing upon my shoulders. When I could play in the sun for hours or create my own world with a new language and new games. When I could simply run for the joy it brought, happy and carefree as the wind rushed through my hair.
But then, I debate with myself that being of tender age is not all fun and amusement. You get piles of tedious homework, you can’t reach the top-most shelf and you get told off by older siblings (I still do, but that’s another matter) and by eighth grade you have to endure a nightmare-inducing phenomenon called calculus. What’s more, you need permission for everything, be it playing on the swings, using the internet or just going out with friends.
Fragile egos and even more fragile hearts characterise the age that follows soon after when one appears suspended midway between childhood and adulthood. Whilst one’s carefully rehearsed casual swagger might be just right, beneath that apparent poise is a sea of self-doubt and one is constantly looking for acceptance amongst peers. The worst part is that you think you know everything when in reality you are a bit of an ignoramus.
Like the inimitable Mark Twain once commented, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished by how much he’d learnt in seven years.”
Thankfully, the longing of wanting to go back at least a decade is over before long, but as I sit writing this after the better part of an hour spent in the playground, I have to say I have discovered an effective way of battling boredom, baby-sitting and working off calories: try being a kid again.