I grew up on the South side of Chicago with my mom, stepfather and thirteen siblings. As you can imagine, there was never a dull moment!

Our parents reared us with a strong faith and belief in God and family. We still uphold the values they instilled in us today.

I remember growing up, playing in the sunshine and feeling absolutely free and safe. Sadly, by today’s standards, those days seem long gone.

I have vivid and fond memories of very sunny days when I was a young girl, jumping rope, playing tag, 1-2-3 red light, Simon says and other fun games with my siblings and our friends.

My mother and stepfather did their best to create a happy upbringing for my siblings and I. They would take us to the beach at night and we would lie on our blankets and watch the stars. And on holidays, it was a sheer delight when we would take fireworks to the beach and light them up. We also went to the drive-in where we could watch movies from our car on a larger than life movie screen. They also had a concession stand where you could buy candy, popcorn, nachos and ice cream.

We had a ball on these special nights, whenever we could afford it. There were twelve of us. My mom had eight children with my father and then remarried and adopted four of my stepfather’s children.

Other special places we would visit were amusement parks called Fun Town and Riverview. The fun we had at these two parks was absolutely incredible! Etched in my memory are the lights, the cotton candy, the merry-go-round and the people. These were some of the best times of my childhood.

At Christmas time, my mother, who worked for Continental Bank, was allowed to choose two of her youngest children to take to the annual Christmas party each year. I attended two years in a row. My mother would make us put on our prettiest dresses and patent leather shoes. We also wore our best coats and she would style our hair to perfection with ribbons and bows.

The bank lobby was filled with a live band playing Christmas music and several very large trees decorated with beautiful lights and all kinds of Christmas ornaments. We would then go into the theater to watch a play called the Nutcracker. After the play, we were given a huge Christmas stocking filled with candy and toys. And before we left for home, we were each given a gift! This was an absolute fairyland dream come true, as well as the best memory of my childhood.

In addition to creating fun memories for us, our mother and father would make sure we went to every church service there was. We went to choir rehearsal, Baptist Training Union, Bible study and Sunday school, at least five days a week. My stepfather had formed a gospel group called 'The Harmony Star' where my brother Brian and younger stepbrother William played the guitar.

My stepfather's group was very popular in gospel circles. One time, he even helped put together our own group with my sisters and I. We wore matching navy blue polka dot dresses, matching shoes and white ankle socks. I think we were called the Mt. Olive Specials. We didn’t sing very long or very well and we quit after six months. However, we would travel with my mother and stepfather from church to church to listen to his group and many other talented singers. Although going to church was not as fun as going to Fun Town or Riverview, we learned some very valuable lessons about loving God, family, others and ourselves.

Creating memories such as the ones I experienced might be a bit challenging in these times. However, all is not lost. I’ve created some memories for my own children that might help parents who would like to create memories for their children but don’t know quite where to start.

One of the first memories I created was to document the milestones of each of my children from infancy to their current age. I also documented their likes and dislikes, their favorite colors as well as their accomplishments each year. In addition to this, I keep every paper they bring home from school with a grade on it, as well as artwork and projects they’ve done in school. When the school year ends, I box the items up, mark each box with the year and grades they were in, and I store them in the garage.

Other ways my husband and I create memories for our children is through music. We play all kinds of music. Such as jazz, classical, country, pop, gospel and R&B. We also take our children to Lincoln Park Zoo and have picnics in the garden not far from it. We also have special nights where we watch movies on Netflix.

But the best and most important way we create memories for our children is when we come together as a family each night for dinner and talk about our day. These are just some of the cost-free ways we enjoy and create memories for our children and ourselves.

Here are some more suggestions that could be a great start to helping you create cost-free memories for your children as well as yourselves.

  1.  Take your child/children to the local library.

  2.  Read a good book and then have a family discussion about it.

  3.  Take walks together.

  4.  Volunteer together.

  5.  Take your family to check on your elderly neighbors.

  6.  Spring clean your yard together.

  7.  Prepare a weekly menu of what the family would like to eat.

  8.  Go shopping together.

  9.  Rent the movie “Courageous” and watch it together.


Terrilyn S. Alexander is the author of the children's book I want to be a dolphin.

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Written by Terrilyn S. Alexander

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