Well-rounded—a poem

Cute little girl on wooden hobby horse drawn on a vintage Christmas card. No known owner, obsolete eBay sample

I have hobbies and so do you
but we don’t call them hobbies.
We call them choir or cross-stitch
or golf or planting trees.

As kids we were urged
to be “well rounded”
not in body but in ourselves.
It was a fad of the time

to be fairly good at study and sport
not too bad at anything
and the path to spherical
normality was hobbies.

The only hobby at the time
for idle hands and minds
was stamp collecting
and no, it didn’t take.

Being a human child
I was hopelessly lopsided
a game inventor, story teller
good for nothing else.

But hobby horses, yes! I had
a wooden stick with a wooden head
I galloped through tracks and paddocks
dreaming and story telling in my head.

Perhaps that counts.

Rachel McAlpine

Podcast episode where I read this poem and riff on hobbies: How To Be Old, Season 2, Episode 1

Child psychology in the early 1950s required children to have well-rounded personalities. Hence “hobbies” were desirable. Daydreaming was not considered a hobby, but what did they know?

18 thoughts on “Well-rounded—a poem

  1. Dan Antion says:

    That counts. One of the sad point in my life was when I realized that I had to give up some hobbies, and focus on others.

  2. My time was spent reading despite the Tirau library only being open for two hours a week with a limit of two books. That didn’t count as a hobby either. But I also collected stamps.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Oh a stamp collector too! Still got those collections? I bet you chose long books, on such a diet. Reading was valued in my home but frowned on in others. A hobby? Or a waste of time? Or basic sustenance?

  3. Sadje says:

    Wonderful poem!

  4. My main hobby as a child was reading, and it still is. Luckily for me, I grew up in a family of readers. I’m not sure if anyone else would have considered us to be well-rounded, though.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Perhaps life knocks off a few sharp edges. We get smoothed off as opposed to rounded.

  5. alison41 says:

    Must be a generational trend: reading And stamp collecting.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      To get a letter bearing stamps is a rare treat these days!

      1. alison41 says:

        Yes you’re right. But not if you are a happy Postcrossing member, exchanging postcards globally and seeing a dazzling array of stamps!

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Oh that sounds great. What fun!

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Of course I collected stamps. I still even have my mother’s stamp collection. Now I guess hobbies seem like unproductive uses of time. So we have to call them by some other name to make them worthwhile.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It’s an old fashioned word, don’t you think? Today we would call them interests, I suspect. But never a waste of time. You

  7. Mark Tulin says:

    Enjoyed the poem. Did remember the well-rounded idea. Collected stamps and rode a wooden hobby horse that swung back and forth. Made horse clopping sounds with my mouth, but not as good as Monty Python.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Well-rounded seems almost sensible compared with today’s everyone-must-excel mindset. But hobby horses are hot, thanks to the Finnish revival. Cloppity clop!

      1. Mark Tulin says:


  8. Most enjoyable, Rachel! My primary school reports regularly mentioned my tendency to daydream – looking back, reckon it was boredom, though I may have been trying to design a nicer world. Books, pens and pencils, paper … my hobbies circled around those.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Of course you were bored. I daydreamed so much my teachers advised my parents to send me to a farm for the “intellectually handicapped.” Parents knew better, luckily 🙂

      1. Good for them! Kids always know best – deep down, anyway …

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