I have four kids, and like most parents, I’m doing my best to give them a happy childhood, but we’re not really an activity family. Don’t get me wrong, we love a good day trip to the local water park or a night out at the movies, but with several different ages and a tight budget, activities or outings are rare for us.
Sometimes I end up feeling bad about it, like our kids are missing out, but then I take a deep breath and realize that some of the best moments come from the simplest of things.
Lucky for us, simple is often free.
Do you know what my kids’ favorite family memory is? An impromptu game my husband invented called Hulk Smash. Every once in a while, he’ll randomly turn off all the lights in the house and chase us. He growls as he roams from room to room and snatches up each kid, and sometimes me, tossing us over his shoulder and flipping us onto beds and couches like a pro wrestler. Laughter fills the air and high pitch squeals are always a clear giveaway for where “The Hulk” is in the darkness. When he runs out of steam and declares the game over, they always incessantly beg him to keep going. And even though we don’t play it often, the kids are forever asking for us to have a quick game before bed. Usually on a school night, go figure!
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Last spring we had our first family sleepover in the living room. We munched on pizza and popcorn and went overboard on candy while we watched the first movie. When our bellies were full we set up couch cushions and yoga mats and the kids filled up their makeshift beds with one too many stuffies. We stayed up way too late and drifted asleep all huddled together in a sea of pillows and blankets. I woke up in agony from sleeping on a yoga mat, but that didn’t stop me from doing it all over again during the Christmas holidays and spring break.
Then there was last year’s post-Thanksgiving walk when my mother-in-law offered to show us a nice little path in the woods. It had been a long time since she’d taken that path, and apparently, she had forgotten how long it was. What was supposed to be a light stroll to walk off a big meal turned into a five-and-a-half-mile trek around town. We chatted the whole way, stopped at the store for treats, and took a break to let the kids run around the park. Toward the end of the walk, the kids were getting tired, so we gave them piggyback rides for the final stretch. Our feet were in agony, but everyone had a blast, and we were all itching to do it again.
Of course, it’s not just the big moments that count.
There are plenty of opportunities to connect in everyday life.
Giggles as we randomly dance in the kitchen. Laughs at the table as we all take turns doing silly voices while we chow down on spaghetti. Or the inside jokes. Those are my absolute favorite! Sometimes, all it takes is one familiar word to incite memories, wide smiles, and full-blown belly laughs. It’s “jambalaya” in our house. That one gets us every time. A word that describes a tasty meal to most, sparks joy for us as we reminisce on a happy moment we shared. Only we know why that word is hilarious. It’s our little secret.
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And it’s funny, because somehow these are the magical moments. Core memories built on shared joy and laughter, and they cost us nothing.
It doesn’t take an elaborate family vacation or an expensive outing to make a moment special or to build lasting memories. It simply takes quality time. And I’m learning that though we aren’t rich in money or things, we are overflowing in love and laughter, and that’s enough. We’re blessed that having fun with family doesn’t take a big budget. In fact, the best memories are often when you’re just having fun with your family, and lucky for us, we do plenty of that and it’s completely free.