How a Binder and a Pen Became The Most Important Tools of my Childhood

When I was little, right at that age where childhood starts to blend into adolescence, my favourite possession was a purple binder filled with loose leaf paper.

Too old for toys, I was rapidly forgetting how to play. Playing is a skill. If you don’t practice it, you will lose the ability to do it. I no longer possessed the necessary elements to channel creativity into playing. But I was still creative.

Not old enough for make up, and boys, and all the things that come with being a teenager, I wasn’t ready to express myself with fashion and accessories. I was too old for the park, and too young for the mall. But I still had the drive to express myself.

So I picked up a pen and started writing. I don’t know where the binder came from, or whose idea it was, but it became part of my life and did not leave my side for several years. I took it in the car, I took it to the doctor, I took it everywhere I went.

In it, I wrote a screen play. I wrote a novel. I wrote an homage to Judy Blume’s Fudge books. Not everything was so far reaching, I also practiced signing my future married name – Mrs. Heather Brandis, for when I married the now sadly departed Jonathan Brandis, star of such blockbusters as Neverending Story II and Lady Bugs. Sometimes I would practice Mrs. Heather DiCaprio, because I was too young to be tied down to one man.

Poetry littered pages here and there. It wasn’t good poetry, but it was mine. I had a file for song parodies, and original pieces. My tragic tale of a man shot down was never crooned by country greats, but I can still sing the hook today.

Taped to the back cover was a letter I wrote to the future me. I had forgotten about it until the binder resurfaced 10 years later, and I got to experience the eerie feeling of being spoken to from the past. It’s amazing how much things change – and how much they don’t.

According to the dozens of MASH games played on the pages inside, Leo (or Brett Burden from 5th grade) and I should be living in a mansion with six kids by now. I seem to have gotten side tracked along the way, but I think ten year old me would be content with the alterations to the plan.

When our car broke down at the side of the road, well before cell phones, my trusty binder came to the rescue as a make-shift help sign maker.

Of course, I had the multi-coloured pen to go with it. Life is to be lived in a spectrum of colours, what fun is monotone blue or black? And yes, I did try to push two colours down at the same time. At least once a day, in fact, determined to not be deterred by the seemingly impossible task. When you’re 10, all things are possible, even two objects occupying the same space. Lessons in physics were still a ways off.

For me, this binder was more than stationary, or a way to occupy my time. It was an expression of who I was, deep down inside. It was my identity, laid out on paper, for only me to see. A way to work through my big emotions as I began the difficult process of growing up. Being 10 is hard. There is a lot to figure out. I took it with me everywhere because it was an extension of me. A genuine part of my soul.

In the age of technology, it is easy to forget what it feels like to be in between childhood and adolescence. It’s a time for self-discovery, when we start to realize what kind of person we are, and who we want to be. Social media and technology are good for emerging teenagers. It’s the way of the future, they need to know it, and it offers ways to connect with peers that we didn’t have growing up.

But when you’re shopping for tablets and phones and back to school supplies, grab a binder and some paper too. Throw in a multi-coloured pen. Assure your child you won’t look inside the binder, it is theirs alone, to express themselves in any way they choose. It is their safe space.

It’s hard being a kid. Figuring out how to express yourself makes it just a little easier.


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