My First Friend, Nick, and the Importance of Play

When talking about Super Penguin, I’m frequently asked, “How do you come up with this stuff?” or “Where do these ideas come from?” My responses are usually “I don’t know, I just do,” and ” I don’t know where they come from, they just kinda appear.” Those responses may seem like copouts but they are sincere and truthful. I don’t know specifically how my brain thought to combine a penguin and cape, it kinda just showed up in my head one day. Perhaps the better question is, “Why do those ideas show up in my brain?” And to that, I absolutely know the answer. It’s because I grew up with one of my best friends, Nick Mills.

Nick was my very first friend and to this day one of my best friends. We don’t see each other nearly as often as we’d like. But when we do reunite, we always pick up right where we left off.

Nick and me at his wedding. June 18, 2022

I don’t remember when we met, because we were both so young. Nick and his family have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Our parents bought some of the first houses on Indian Ridge Drive in North Las Vegas, Nevada and as young boys did in the 90s we played a lot.

Sometimes we played with action figures. It was usually a hodgepodge of X-men, Star Wars, G.I. Joes and Jurassic Park dinosaurs all interacting with one another in some elaborate story that we’d make up. Other times we were the characters in the story. We’d get our NERF guns, lightsabers and other toy weapons, fight invisible foes also with an elaborate story. If we didn’t have a toy version of a weapon we wanted to have at our disposal, we’d put a random item in it’s place. For example, a small, foam NERF basketball made an excellent fill-in for a grenade that we’d toss at our invisible bad guys.

We’d play these games at my house, Nick’s house, and in the after school “Safe-Key” daycare we attended. We played A LOT and never seemed to use the same story twice. It was always off the cuff, high stakes adventures that would keep us entertained for hours on end.

My family moved away from Nevada and on to Illinois when I was 10 years old. I didn’t realize this until I started writing today’s blog post, but when my family moved, I never played with anyone like that again. I still played with my action figures, but the playtime was never collaborative with another friend. New friends were made and we’d play video games together, or sports outside, but the creative, story building adventures went away with the move to Danville.

This weekend was Nick’s wedding. We had so much fun reminiscing about the good times, and we had a lot of fun thinking about the future too. Nick said to me in a letter, “I hope Maggie and I can have kids soon. so our kids and Parker can play together”. I thought about that sentiment, smiled and couldn’t agree more. I am so thankful that I was blessed to grow up with a super creative kid right across the street from me. I’m also incredibly blessed that our parents became best friends too, maximizing the amount of playtime we had together. And though I can’t recall what a single one of those stories were about, I’ll never forget playing with my friend Nick.

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