Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I Hated Being a Kid

Don’t get me wrong, I generally had a pretty decent childhood – playing outside, watching TV, a swimming pool, a good friend or two, comic books, novels, a movie theater. What I hated was BEING a kid. I’m not sure if this is common to the human condition or not, but I was very much aware whenever things would go wrong that I had failed to anticipate what might occur because of my lack of experience (and/or lack of common sense, which some would probably argue with some justification has not measurably improved). I’d get very frustrated and wonder to myself “When will I be able to predict these things and avoid them?” I can clearly picture myself in the woods behind my parents’ first house. There was a clearing with a large rock that a bunch of neighborhood kids used as a meeting place. I don’t remember exactly what I had done, but I recall feeling the above sentiment very strongly as I stood, alone, on that rock. Possibly it had been something along the lines of smacking a large stick on the rock and having it shatter and smack me in the face with a broken chunk. As I said, I don’t recall, but that’s certainly the sort of thing I’d probably have done and the reaction would fit – “gah! Why didn’t I know that was going to happen? I wish I weren’t a stupid kid!” Of course, my monkeying around over the weekend amply demonstrates that just growing older hasn’t necessarily addressed this issue.

I spent most of my time alone when I was a kid. I didn’t mind – I didn’t know any better. It just was how it was. My brother was much younger than me, so we didn’t play together all that much, and there were no kids my age for miles. But we had a big yard and a really nice, if thin, track of woods behind my house where I’d play for hours. I’d spend time visiting the old widows who lived on either side of us, who were both really nice. I remember one of them, Mrs. Skrupa, even watched me one time while my parents went out of town. She had a lovely old 18th-century home that she told me had once been the carriage house for the estate there on the south end of Solvay.

Mrs. Scrupa had a great old red maple in her back yard right near the edge of our property line and I loved climbing that tree. I never went very high, but it had some nice crooks in the great, thick lower branches – a veritable highway for a little boy. The tree was on a slope and it had one sturdy branch that grew out straight and true and parallel to the ground. It wasn’t long before I mastered the skill of leaping out from the main trunk, catching the thinner branch that grew out like the top stave of an uneven parallel bars, and swinging out and up, arching my back and gliding to the ground. It’s one of the few times in my life that I’ve felt graceful, and I remember that the flight seemed to last for minutes as I marveled at the feeling of strength and control and agility that that scrawny, weak, often timid little boy rarely felt. These days, I’d consider it likely that the branch, which had no offspring of its own and was quite probably dead, might be too weak to support even a smallish child and I’d use my power of reasoning and prediction to hypothesize that the branch might well break at an inopportune time, potentially resulting in serious injury. I probably wouldn’t let my kids do what I had done. Sometimes, though, being a kid is a magical thing, and not knowing why you might not ought to do something leads to rewards that speak to your spirit. If I’d realized that at the time, I’d probably have better appreciated how much I loved being a kid.

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