Thursday, October 15, 2009

Children of the pavement

One of my greatest fears is that any baby I may eventually have will become a "child of the pavement," as one of the characters so aptly puts it in The Awakening. Even though I grew up in lovely, soul-less suburbia, I did have daily access to ditches brimming with crawdads, dirt roads I could rumble down on my bike, long fields of corn in all stages of development and death, and the Rocky Mountains so close I could feel their presence even when the springtime fog obscured their view. Living in L.A., I miss seeing both homely livestock and majestic wild beasts; it's a primal longing to commune with other living things that I can't explain to my city-mouse husband.

What would childhood be if it didn't include the freedom to "light out" like Huck, to feel the freedom of being alone in a lonely place? Children need intimate access to growing things--flora and fauna untamed, unmanicured, untouched--to know their place in the universe. My husband argues that he got that know-how just fine on family camping trips and summer excursions along the West coast. But it tears a hole in my heart to know that our child would never, on a day-to-day basis, have the kind of relationship to open spaces that brought me so much solace growing up. Where will my child go when I tell her 'No' and she hates me and life and needs to cry and sing and run it out until the world is a place of possibility again? You can't do that in your bedroom; you can't do it at the mall; you can't do it online; you can't do it in the car, on a freeway. Maybe you can do it in a theater or a sports field or an art class--all good things that this city will offer at a caliber I never experienced as a child, I'm sure. But it won't be the same. It won't be outdoors...and I won't understand it.

There are few people in this world whom I consider true kindred spirits. These beloved friends and family all fully get this thing about lighting out when your soul calls. Even if they don't get out there very often, they have internalized the value of the wild, they they respect and crave its incomprehensible beauty. I can't imagine having a child who would not be this kind of kindred spirit, due to my failings as a mentor and guide. Every parent has a handful of values they feel they must pass on to their child: this baptism by dirt and sky tops my list.

How will I raise a "child of the wide open spaces" when all I can see is pavement?

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