When I was a little girl, my brother and I used to play in our front yard. Often, we would throw a tennis ball against the brick of our house and caught it when it bounced back towards us. We didn’t have much room to work with, but some days, our neighbours would go out and we stood on their driveway; this allowed us to have more distance from the wall.

A couple of times, our neighbours would pull into their driveway, causing us to awkwardly disperse, fearful that we had angered them by using their property to extend our throws. The elderly couple never said anything though, as we retreated to our lawn. They just quietly went into their own home, but their lack of smiles made us certain that they were mad.

Then, one day, while we were sitting on our porch, the elderly man of the couple approached us. He simply nodded at my brother without uttering a word. Looking down at me, he grinned and reached into a plastic bag slung over his wrist. He pulled out a tennis ball. Placing it into my hand, he nodded again and went back inside.

Even at the tender age of seven, I knew what that meant. He wasn’t mad. He was giving us permission to play.

I hadn’t thought of that in years until very recently. My previously quiet street has become filled with children. Basketballs are bouncing, scooters are whizzing by, and chalk is coloring up the sidewalk. I am very aware that some find it a nuisance.  Yet, I can’t help contemplating the beauty of it. Playing provides an opportunity for children to connect and make memories. It gives them an outlet if they’re feeling anxious. And it allows them to embrace the fleeting innocence of childhood. With that recognition in mind, I have been trying to let my old neighbour’s kindness live through me by empowering play in children around me.

If you wish to do the same, here are some ideas: if you have a child in your family/circle, give them something directly! Donate children’s books to local libraries, community drop-offs, or schools.  Leave a toy in a spot where you know a child will find it – in my neighbouhood, there’s a local park with a sandbox filled with toys. You can also donate toys to hospitals, especially around the holidays when kids could use a special pick-me-up. And on that note, investigate initiatives like Operation Christmas Child, which allow you to send both toys and necessities to under-privileged children in places like Ukraine, West Africa, and South America.

Bringing joy to a child’s life will not only enrich their experience, but it will also do wonders for your spirit.

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