And so the days proceed apace up north on Lake Michigan. The grandkids help me with my solitaire game, join me for morning oatmeal, sit on the couch with me while I read The Island of the Blue Dolphins to them. We frolic in the lake, build sand castles, play paddleball and frisbee, walk on the beach and occasionally up the steep sand dune called The Sugar Bowl. And often, in the late afternoon, a new joy— all of us nestled in with our own books. We are a family of readers and we are so happy to welcome the next generation to the club.
This morning Malik was talking to his Mom about his friends and included my wife and I. Given the amount that we play together, hike together, read together, watch movies together, there is some truth in that. Such a contrast to the parents and grandparents of my childhood. The idea of an adult being a friend with a kid just didn’t really exist. We lived in worlds apart and mostly happily so. We had no desire to hang out with adults, who sat and talked about boring things, did weird things like sit and pay bills, drank disgusting beverages and might occasionally play catch with us, but never climb trees or jump in puddles or twirl until they fell down. And they certainly had no desire to watch cartoons with us or listen to our fart jokes. Or talk to us about our ideas or hopes or dreams. The going maxim at the family gathering dinner table was “Children should be seen and not heard.”
So I was intrigued by an essay by John Steinbeck (from America and Americans) called Conversations at Sag Harbor. Written in 1961, it talks of a trip he took with his two sons and begins:
“I do not subscribe to Togetherness, which seems to foster active dislike between American parents and their children. A father being a pal to his son not only is nonsense but can be dangerous. Father and son are natural enemies and each is happier and more secure in keeping it that way.
Last year we decided to go to Sag Harbor. Ours is no attempt to be pals but rather for each side to spy out and neutralize the changing weapons of the other. In the car trip there, we passed a few guarded remarks—weather, how we felt, how good it was to be together—not really fighting, just feinting and getting the range…”
You get the idea. But as one reads, you see they had a marvelous time together, filled with deep conversation and memorable activities.
Malik is now at the beach doing yoga with his aunt, Zadie just woke up and scared me from behind as I write (as she does each morning), last night we built a fire on the beach, toasted marshmallows for s’mores, sang songs and looked for the Big Dipper in the night sky. Tonight some guests will come and we’ll all play Charades after dinner, kids and adults alike. I was happy to be a parent of young children in the 80’s, a grandparent of young children in the teens and a teacher of young children my whole life. I’m willing to be stern and strict as needed, understand and respect the clear boundaries between the kid’s mind, heart and body and the adult’s, but my lifelong pleasure in playing with children has kept the child in me alive, that young boy who I admire, respect, enjoy and am glad to have by my side.
Had he lived in a different time, I think Steinbeck would understand.