Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bridge to Childhood


“I’m tired of being an adult” announced by sister-in-law Lori and lying on the Lake Michigan beach, I knew exactly what she meant. I mean, really, what’s the point?

I have had two near-perfect days sans watch and shoes, walking the shore to the outlet or up the enormous sand dune known as “the Sugar Bowl.” biking around the inland lakes and orchards, swimming in the back lake, sunning and reading on the front. Long lazy days feeling the layers peel back, so that when there was an indoor rainy spell and I decided to delete school e-mails, it felt strange to read about this meeting or that, who misplaced the stapler or moved the laminating machine, negotiations around schedule changes, the whole heavy load of keeping the machinery of school going and well-oiled. Even here in vacation paradise, my wife spent two hours traversing the seven levels of AT &T Voice-Mail Hell to get the phone re-instated, had to spend a morning at the bank in town dealing with her Dad’s estate while I went to the library to answer my 51 e-mails about details of upcoming workshops and such. You know—adult stuff.

I loved Peter Pan as a kid, but reluctantly accepted that some day, I too, would turn into that strange creature called a grown-up and listen to Wendy scold me about leaving hairs in the sink after shaving. And to my utter astonishment, I have managed to be a full-fledged functioning adult who owns a house, pays the bills and gets the garbage out on Thursdays. I’ve raised two children, managed to hold down a job, taken groups of students on field trips and brought them back alive. But it just takes so much damned work to keep the simplest of human activities going, be it a household, a soccer team, a school, a government—you name it. Of course, modern civilization is working way too hard for things we don’t really need and we’d probably be amazed at how much life could go on without filling out forms or renewing out cable TV subscription. But even the Pygmies in the rainforest have to hunt and gather, cook the meat and pound the tubers, fix the hole in the thatch hut roof and take care of the kids.

Still, there are days when we should consider the lilies in the fields and wonder if we might live a simpler life. Remember the old college graffiti (was it from a Bob Dylan song?) “If dogs run free, why not we?” Hanging out with my in-laws’ dog Hurley, I can only be envious of his abandon at jumping into the lake, chasing baby raccoons up trees, generally running around so carefree and happy and equally content to stretch out on the floor and sleep whenever she feels like it. Not a bad life. Of course, someone has to buy the dog food and spray the Fantastic on the rug when she decides to pee indoors.

If we have to be adults—and we do—I hope we all get the chance to cross a bridge back into childhood and live, if only for a few days each year, a life reduced to sand, sea and sky. To run full speed down the sand dune shouting in delight with arms spread, to catch frogs and build sandcastles, to ride waves and jump off rope-swings, lie on your back and look up at the clouds. You know—kid stuff.

Maybe that’s why I’ve spent my life hanging out with kids. They get it. Adults arrive at the cottage and start organizing their sock drawers while the kids run down to the beach and splash into the water, temperature be damned. Adults feel the need to write about these things on their blogs, while kids…hey! the sun came out! Last one in the water is a rotten egg!

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