Thursday, September 20, 2012

One Thing I've Learned in a Month

I grew up two miles from a tiny town, over the river, through the holler. There were no neighbor kids to play with, just my blue banana bike and that familiar curve of road, that slow "S" to the stop sign, then back again. My world was as small as our 13" black and white TV, as thin as the pages of a paperback dream.

My Dad used to crow that this was why his kids were so good (we weren't so good) - because we didn't gallivant around with the riff-raff. We didn't run the town. We were stuck at home pining for the Schwan man to bring more of those little pizzas or Push Up pops. We were making local calls on the rotary phone, crafting Slip'nSlides from the giant roll of plastic we found up in the hay mow.

It became critical to find a townie best friend, where we could escape for a day of biking on sidewalks and plunking quarters into the pop machine.

Eventually, life circled back around and I ached to give my kids the very same tied-down, forced-boredom life. We didn't turn out so bad, after all, and I trusted my dad. He was probably right about living in the country. I surveyed the collective mistakes of us three kids and had to wonder, how bad might it have been if we'd spent our early years "out gallivanting around"?

It felt safer to stick to the formula. I couldn't really picture life differently, life on a city block. I had no frame of reference. I didn't know what I didn't know.

But now I do, or I'm starting to.

Living on this city block means teenagers everywhere. All the time. They shriek from the park and knock on the door right as my kids are taking baths and climbing into flannel pajama pants. They show up nosy, just to sniff the new-house smell. They flaunt their acrobatics and their dance moves with one hand holding their pants up but no, they don't want a belt.

They get jittery when I ask about school. 

Their bikes are stolen. They get evicted. Her big sister gets knocked up by the guy across the street - and now he's headed to jail.

They know too much, talk too loud. They've never heard of a filter when little ears are near.

I look into their faces and wonder why the Universe needed us to be together like this. How will these chapters end? Will they move away? Lose interest? Will I learn their middle names and birthdays? Will they play board games at our table?

I like watching this big mystery unfold. 

I wouldn't trade my sheltered childhood for all the world. I'll fight for the very same things my parents fought for. It may take a little creativity and a trough of grace, but I'm banking on my kids growing up smart and true, their hearts pointed in the right direction, while they gallivant around with the riff-raff.