The story of choice for one wing of the grandkids right now is "Peter Rabbit" by Beatrix Potter. Part of the attraction is the sheer scandal of it all. Every time an adult reads the story, the kids exude wide-eyed disbelief that a bunny disobeyed his mother (gasp!), ventured into Mr. McGregor's garden (gasp!) and safely made it home again (the sweet exhale).
Not long ago their mother was driving along and said, "Look, a rabbit is crossing the road. I wonder if it is Peter Rabbit."
A 3-year-old in the backseat said, "Does he have on a blue jacket?"
They live in the magic of childhood where the walls are papered with wonder and innocence and all things are possible.
When the grands come to our house, they often play dress-up. They dip into a big basket of old clothes - fur stoles I made for the girls ages ago, what was once my best pair of red high heels, reindeer antlers, a pirate eye patch, a plastic crocodile head, a sailor hat, a construction hat, red bandanas, beads, more beads, a plastic stethoscope, aprons, a pioneer bonnet and a play sheriff's vest and old leather holster.
One of our daughters commented that not many little kids play dress-up anymore.
I met a woman who said she doesn't allow kids to turn the house upside-down.
What's a house for?
One day this summer, when six of the little bugs were here, they dragged every ball, broom, bucket, hose attachment and water toy they could find in the garage to the backyard. There was running and yelling and screaming and falling down and crying and getting sprayed in the face.
By the end of the day the Slip 'N Slide was barely spitting water and had decimated a wide swath of grass. Sidewalk chalk was floating in big galvanized tubs filled with water. A pair of swim trunks was half-buried in the sandbox. Random tennis shoes, beach towels, empty juice boxes, remains of PBJ sandwiches crawling with ants, bubble wands, toy trucks and plastic shovels were strewn from one end of the yard to the other. Even a screen had popped out of a door. The place looked like hillbilly heaven.
It may well have been the best day of summer.
Sometimes it is freedom that fuels the imagination. Unbridled play, the mess of paint, the squish of clay, and unconventional uses for conventional things all burn energy, fire brain cells and broaden the horizon.
A measured wildness, free play and blue jackets on rabbits are sheer delights that fill the fleeting span of childhood. Do they entail messes that cry to be cleaned? Almost always.
But surely there is no better use of time.