Being born in the late 80s in a country that just got rid of communism was equivalent to witnessing some turbulent and uncertain times. Of course, if you are a child you do not care that there is scarcity of bread, oil, and sugar in the grocery store, and that your working parents had to queue in for hours together with the retired old ladies from the block just to buy the essentials. If you are a little child, you do not realize your dad had yo stand in line (and almost fight the feisty elderly customers) so that he can buy a few jars of yoghurt, which I would consume all in one night (if you are Bulgarian, or happen to have tasted Bulgarian yoghurt, you would understand why I was such a fan of it). I think I was from one of the last generations that had a childhood not ruled by computers and all kinds of tech gadgets and toys, and had to actually engage in games with each other and be creative. And that was such a blessing!
Of course, when you retrospectively look back at a certain period of your life, you are likely to stress on the positive and forget most of the negatives, especially when the events happened long time ago. I did not have the happiest of childhoods, and I could not wait to grow up, be independent and free. And still, now that I am independent and so free that I get to see my parents twice a year, I cannot help but reminesce and linger on those (maybe rare) moments of utter joy that you cannot help but miss when you are overwhelmed with grown-up problems. Escapism in its purest form, I know.
So, what are some of the great things about being a child in the 90s in a country that was struggling (and still is) to embrace democracy?
First of all, all of a sudden there was so much choice and abundance in the stores! You no longer had to go to this one special store where you purchase Western-made goods if you had special connections, and were required to pay in dollars. Anyone could walk into any store and buy a proper, delicious milk chocolate. I remember I was simply addicted to the Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs. I was also gulliable enough to care only for the toy inside, so my dad would end up eating the chocolate egg itself. The toys also changed. Instead of those ugly, roughly-made, almost scaring the devil out of small children, there were new, shiny, beautiful, soft and pleasant to touch dolls, trucks, cars, stuffed animals, etc. I never pleaded my parents to buy me toys (somehow, even when young, I thought it was inappropriate to do so, and decided what if my parents could afford to, and felt like it, they would buy me toys themselves), and I was also very careful with those that I already possessed, sledomly breaking any. And because for a few years my grandparents did not have other grandchildren apart from me, they liked to indulge me and buy me toys. So, I ended up having plenty (without even asking for them). Oh, the joy, and the doors of imagination they opened for me!
And because we did not have any tech gadgets (I think I was 14 when I had my frist PC), we were forced to actually go outside and play with other children. And I cannot even describe the excitement this entitled!!! I was also lucky enough to live in a small, child-friendly town, which was not so small that you would get bored, and my house was located near the town park, closeby an aquapark, and a river, so it was like a heaven for children with imagination. And we really did have plenty of it!!! Oh, the thrill of teaming up and playing some competitive game! Or, when it was dark, we would play hide-and-seek, with all kinds of creative twists to it! I still remember how dreadful it was to have your parents call you to come home for dinner, or to simply to get home to go to sleep. Yes, we did not have mobile phones, so our parents would just stand on the balcony and call your name. The funny part was, you could always know if you were in trouble or not– if your mother used your full name to call your home, and not a short, sweet version of it, you would know you are in for no good!
Every season was great. I loved summers! There was no school, which in my case was also equivalent to having none of my parents around in the house for most of the day. So, I was free to play with other children, or read books, and do some arts and crafts. I think me and most of my peers were so thrilled about the adventures of some of the characters from the books we read that we tried to enact them (Pipi Longstocking comes to mind). It was so fun, that we all hated it when one of us was sent to visit his/her grandparents, usually in a small town or village nearby.
Winters were pretty great too. In Bulgaria summers are very hot, but the winters can get quite cold and snowy. And snow meant tremendous fun! We would go out, make a snowman, sometimes fight with snowballs, and our favorite- slide with sleighs. I remember one day when the snow was good enough (not too fresh, and not melting yet), we were sliding down with sleighs on a slope just next to my house, and it was so fun, so exciting, and somehow so popular that children and adults from the near few miles were there sliding (my parents including). I clearly remember my dad even broke my sleigh because he steered it into a tree!
And the magic did not end there. If I have to write about all the adventures, all the games we played, many of which we made up ourselves, all the fun and fighting, crying and tears, and making up afterwards, I would probably write up a whole book. I always look back with nostalgia, trying to isolate the difficult moments and focus on the positive, the way you are supposed to when you have a retrospective look at your life. And it is a little sad that the generations of children after us did not get to experience what we went through because we had to create our fun, we had to be imaginative, come up with ideas of what to do and how to make it interesting. We did not have internet, fancy video games (only Nintendo came up later, and we were only moderately addicted), tablets and laptops. We had to actually go outside, knock on someone’s door to find a playing companion and then, invent our own adventures. And in a way, that was the greatest gift a child could receive, and I would never trade that for the fanciest, most up-to-date-techiest toy in the world!! So, happy children’s day to all of you who have managed to preserve some of this curiosity, innocence, and enthusiasm. And I am going to get the 5-year-old me an nice, big cone of ice-cream!