Tuesday, April 07, 2009

When We Were Very Young

It's not like I'm going to give birth to an eight-year old. I know this. I know I will have time -- years, in fact -- to figure more of this out. But now is the calm before the storm, right? Now is the time to tap into what's left of my rationale and write it down, before I have a child and lose all of my senses.

I haven't raised a child, and I haven't been around children enough to "know" how "they" are. I've therefore spent a lot of time recently thinking about how I was as a kid. How I was raised, how I remember my childhood.

And let's start from the understanding that I was an incredibly happy kid, and I had an incredibly happy childhood. Things changed later, got complicated later, got sadder later. My relationship with my mom ended on a good note, but it could have been so much better (a regret I will live with always and try my darndest not to repeat). But I have nothing but positive things bouncing through my memory about being little.

Now, the moms I do know have all told me that babies come with their own personalities. Some babies are thoughtful and some are exuberant and some are sullen and some are fussy and some are chill and they just are who they are. As a parent, you do what you can to nurture their nature.

So okay, I get that.

But for now, I'm going to assume that my child has a predisposition toward happiness.

* * * * * * *

When I was about two, my parents moved from an apartment in Manhattan to a very small house in Darien, CT. If Darien has a "bad" part of town, we lived in it. The house was on a single-level, with three small bedrooms and 1.5 baths. It was at the end of the street, and had a long driveway that curved around from the front of the house, down a small incline, to the side of the house where the garage led to the basement. It had a tiny wooden deck, with chipped paint and little stability. Our yard was large, but at least half of it was sandy dirt (from where I think the previous owners had had an above-ground pool) and the far end was outlined by a "brook." (We called it a brook. I believe it was really a water main for a sewage line.) And then, up a steep incline on the other side of the brook, were train tracks.

Knowing what I do now about homes, I don't know what made my parents decide to move to that house on Moore Street. I'm sure it was a great deal, and maybe that's what they wanted -- the most affordable home they could find in Darien. But I also know that faced with the same options today, Ish and I would never have moved there. We'd have freaked out about the "brook"'s sanitation and mosquito-attracting properties, and would have been terrified about the dangers of the train tracks (not to mention the noise nuisance). We'd have worried about the non-level yard, the rickety deck, and the likelihood of the garage/basement flooding.

But it's really hard for me to think back to that house and see it through a grown-up's eyes.

I still remember it as my family's house. It was the wonderful place we lived. I didn't know that it wasn't big or fancy, or what difference that would have made. I didn't know that we weren't in a "good" neighborhood or that such a thing existed. I knew that my room, Kiki's room, was at the end of the hall. The baby's room was next to mine on one side, and on the other side was the room where mommy and daddy slept. It had the big closet (with all of mommy's high-heeled shoes) and the tiny bathroom (with all of mommy's makeup).

I realize now that the kitchen had been tiny. But to me, it was just the kitchen. And if you wanted to get the "good" scissors (versus the stupid kid safety scissors that wouldn't cut paste), you had to pull a kitchen chair over, open the cupboard, climb up on the counter, stand on your tip-toes, and reach the top-most shelf...but you weren't supposed to do that. Ahem.

The basement, as I mentioned earlier, was a different story. Sure, it's where the dress-up clothes were stored and where the "playroom" was. It was ALSO, however, where the furnace room was and thus, where the witch lived, so I have mixed feelings about its awesomeness. BUT! When we were lucky enough to have the basement flood, then it was like one giant mud puddle, and what could be better than that?

The sloped driveway was like a pre-schooler's version of a skateboard park. The neighbor kids and Healy and I would take our Power Wheels and tricycles to the top of the driveway, and zoom down it toward the garage over and over and over again. It felt like we were flying we were going so fast. (I'm sure I would laugh at the "incline" if I could see it now.)

My favorite bike was called the Spin-Out 360, which was basically a plastic big-wheel that had a brake on one side; when you were ready, you'd pull the brake, and the bike would spin in circles. Because that's what happens when you suddenly stop wheels from spinning. These days, I imagine the manufacturer would be sued for all kinds of negligence. But I loved it. I mean, I didn't love it when I messed it up, and instead of spinning out I'd topple over and skin my knees, but what an effective way to learn proper timing!

The brook kind of scared me because there were so many bugs in it, but it was always fun to see if you could jump across it or not. And if you didn't, what was a little muddy wetness?

I understood the dangers of the train tracks, which I couldn't have readily climbed to, and had no desire to mess with anyway. The trains going by were certainly loud, but my mom taught me to think of them in a friendly way. The train with the red stripe (that'd be the New Haven line of the MetroNorth) was "daddy's train" and whenever one of those would go by, we'd stop and wave. At night, I remember feeling comforted whenever a train would go by. It told me that there was a whole world going on somewhere out there, even if I was asleep.

And oh, the sandy-dirt pile in the middle of the yard. Good Lord, it must have been ugly as sin to adults. But to me? It was the world's hugest sandbox and it was IN MY OWN BACKYARD. My friends and I would play in there for hours. It seemed so special, and I knew I was super-duper lucky to have such a cool place to play.

We moved to a much larger house the summer I turned six. But the years I spent in our "old house" (for the next 17 years, everyone in our family referred to it as "the old house") remained fond and vivid in my mind.

And here is the point. Or at least, part of it.

I don't know what I wore during those years. I don't know if I had the "best" anything. I knew I had a safe, warm, loving home to live in. I remember what was fun and what wasn't.

I remember that I spent almost every single day with my same-aged next-door neighbor, Bridget. I remember when my friend Emily would get to come and visit. I remember my fun yard and my fun driveway. I remember my fun dogs.

I never got sick from jumping in the brook or splashing around in the flooded basement. I skinned my knees, shins, elbows a million times and survived.

I was a kid, and I was allowed to be a kid and do kid things. And I loved it.

{more on this to come}

15 comments:

  1. yay! that was a fun place, i barely remember the inside of the house, but i remember playing in the backyard vividly.

    i remember thinking having trains in your backyard was the coolest thing in the world. now i think having a vineyard in your back yard is the coolest thing in the world. ahhh, the symmetry.

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  2. First, let me say the Spin Out 360 was completely kick-ass. I remember that fondly and if I could buy one for my kids, I would.

    The more I wade into the blogosphere, the more I realize that a happy childhood is a treasure beyond price. You may not "know kids," but honestly, it's the ones that think they know everything that screw the pooch as far as child-rearing. This little girl is going to be incredibly lucky.

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  3. "But for now, I'm going to assume that my child has a predisposition toward happiness."

    You have to, after all, right? And I'm sure they will.

    One step at a time :-)

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  4. I grew up in the North woods of Michigan, and spent literally hours and sometimes all day, out of sight and sometimes hearing of my mother. I brought home snakes, bugs, mushrooms, lots of dirt, and one time a chicken egg, and my mom would just smile and give me a box to put it in. I was bruised and scraped and bloody most of my summers, and never noticed, or if I did, it was only to admire them. I didn't necessarily have a happy childhood, but there were lots of Moments where I was very happy. And I think drawing on those moments to inform me as a parent, is more helpful than any book I could ever read, or gadget I could buy.

    (of course, we also refer to our son as the practice baby. The second one will of course be perfect in every way, since we'll have it all figured out by then)

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  5. I love this posting because I've just begun to let my 1-yr old play with me in the back yard. She's recently found an empty pot that dead leaves, bugs, and grass have collected in with some rainwater. She immediately crawls over to it and squeals as she squishes her hands in it. Only once did I see a wet leaf headed toward her mouth. I love that she LOVES playing in dirt and eating it too! I just told a friend (who posted a pic of her daughter's head COVERED in spaghetti) that I was so happy she'd let her make such a mess. Babies/kids weren't meant to be clean all the time!

    Good for you, you're miles ahead of the rest with your mind already set on the 'cool' things of childhood.

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  6. On paper, my childhood should have left me a shell of a human, or at least very messed up. In reality, it rocked!! I played outside, ran wild with the kids in the neighbourhood, and generally had a blast!

    I choose to remember all the good stuff from growing up, because any of the crap, it's just not worth holding on to.

    I hope all the children in my world grow up and choose to remember all the happy.

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  7. Wow. First of all, the name of this post - my favorite book as a child. I can still quote from it.

    I can totally relate to this post - grew up in a house that is so much smaller than I remember. My kids grew up in a small house too, but I know that they didn't notice either because these aren't the things kids notice or care about.

    But we as parents make the mistake of thinking they do. So we buy them things instead of giving them time. My oldest (who was the first grandchild too) had every material thing her little heart desired but her fondest memory is sitting on the porch with me eating strawberries.

    go figure.

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  8. I remember jumping walls, getting our skateboards and going down this steep hill (on the street!) to the end, and we never learned how to control it, or stop it, so eventually we'd hit the sidewalk and fly out of it into the ground.

    And I climbed trees, and I've fallen off trees.

    I always had skinned knees, and I still have some of those scars.

    And I couldn't have asked for a better, happier childhood.

    I also remember going to the beach, and my parents leaving me and my brother in the water, unsupervised, while they took hour-long walks on the coast. We were great swimmers, even at age 7, and nothing ever happened, but I look back and think they were nuts.

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  9. Why is that? I mean why do we do that as parents? Why do we hold our kids so tight? We are an entire generation of people who (as kids) were allowed to wander the streets, woods, beaches and hills of our childhood. We cherish these memories. No. We hold these memories as tightly as we do our children. What happened to us to make us think our parents were crazy to raise us... free? I think it was TV and years of local news.

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  10. This is why I feel sorry for a lot of kids today. The ones that are never allowed to play outside unsupervised for fear of being hurt. My niece (who is 11) is STILL not allowed to ride her bike unsupervised on her own (very quiet, very safe) street. It makes me sad.

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  11. What a GREAT post Kristy!

    This reminds me so much of my own wonderful rose-colored childhood.

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  12. I agree that we need to be more free with our kids...there is danger in the world but in reality no more than when we were kids. Just more news.

    There are so many skills to be learned from play and exploration. I had the "brook" and woods and hilly, gravelley driveways too....and cuts and scrapes and broken bones and fantastic capers and I loved my childhood.

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  13. this post made me so nostalgic for childhood. It brought a nice smile to my face, thanks for that

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  14. Dude, what if babycakes does come out at eight years old?

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  15. I think that we all have these kinds of memories when we were kids, and I almost think that they are more fun and more profound when we were "poor" as kids. We never felt it, but it may have very well been the case. We made our own fun, and weren't spoiled zombies. I love hearing other people's "this is what I loved as a kid" stories

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