By Katie Moosbrugger

It amazes me how the simple things in life are those that tend to impress and entertain kids the most, and leave them with lasting memories.

The fact that I don’t remember any of my birthday parties is a case in point. I’m sure they were super (I’ve seen pictures!), and I’m sure my parents put a lot of effort into them (although I’m also certain most were simple parties in our own back yard). Nor do I remember many of the toys I had. While I bet I had some, I don’t recall any fancy dolls or games or gadgets. What I do remember most vividly are all the “non-events” and the silly games I played that cannot be bought in a store.

Today, it seems we (parents) are constantly trying to create memories for our kids. We organize lavish birthday parties, plan the most amazing sleepover to date, gift them with toys or electronics that steal their attention for hours, sign them up for a different extracurricular activity for every day of the week, and clutter our weekends with more events we can possibly attend. It’s like we’re taking all the creativity out of childhood.

My childhood memories are simple. For instance, I remember setting up my bedroom as a giant town where I used a large book as a school bus that I drove around my room picking up pennies or other small knick-knacks (that were supposed to be school kids) at all the imaginary bus stops.

I remember games I played that involved endless made-up “rules” that we’d constantly change to the point of mass confusion. Some of our games required horseflies (don’t ask), some required dogs as a participants, and others required just a sprinkler or a ball.

I remember the countless hours I spent playing with neighbors in the woods behind our house – climbing trees or “friending” trees (don’t ask!). Or the summers at my grandparents’ beach house – jumping waves or organizing elaborate horseshoe crab races with my cousins.

Other than a bicycle (and maybe a boogie board), I rarely played with anything else other than friends, cousins, and my own imagination. I seldom had “play dates” arranged for me – and it seemed most of my weekends were spent at home. If no one was around for me to pal around with, then I went outside and sought things to do.

Sadly, I worry my kids are not creating the same kind of simple memories. I am just as guilty of filling their hours with scheduled play dates and after-school activities, planning special trips, carting them to a million weekend events (God forbid they have three hours of nothing to do), and organizing birthday parties that have to top the year prior.

As a way to escape this vicious cycle, I recently took my kids to visit friends in “the country” where they had the opportunity to roam for an entire day parent-and-schedule-free on an 11-acre wooded lot. At first I thought the plan sounded fabulous, and then I quickly panicked when they disappeared into the deep woods.

“Don’t worry. They’ll come back when they’re hungry,” my friend jokingly tried to reassure me. Well, they did come back. And then they’d disappear for another hour or two, and come back for another short break. They did this again and again and again. Thankfully my friend’s children knew the woods like the back of their hands, so I relaxed a bit over time.

Our kids played like this for an entire day – unsupervised – out on their own – discovering new things – building imaginary forts – climbing trees – going on pretend hikes and adventures – finding frogs and other creatures – in and out of the drizzle of rain – without complaint – with just their imagination as their companion – stopping only when they got hungry (just like my friend reassured me).

There was no structure. No toys. No electronics. No planned event for the day. They made up games. They told each other stories out in the woods. They acted out imaginary scenarios. It was pure bliss for them. They still talk about their adventures, and they’re counting the days when they can go back.

I later realized later it’s the simple things in life that my kids crave. And it’s what I want them to remember most from their childhood.

As I drove home from my friend’s “country estate,” I made a promise to myself that I’d strive for more simplicity in our lives. That promise made me feel good, yet it lasted about one whole day back in the “city” of Winston-Salem.

And now I need to go pick my kids up from their play dates and drive them to their next activities…