Friday, August 5, 2016

While the spirit is a puppy

Here is the man I never married
and these are the kids I never had and 

I look nothing like that woman either.
When I was eight or nine, I went on regular trips to a local amusement park with some best friends. Inside the park's giant arcade, across from the rows of pinball machines were coin operated machines that produced things like fortunes and predictions, like the machine that sends Tom Hanks into adulthood overnight in the movie "Big." 
One of them, for a quarter, would show you your future spouse and children. The weird, grainy photos were all 1920s era and featured unsmiling, long suffering souls who looked like they'd been forced to pose for the picture or else. 
Usually, the men sported handlebar moustaches and suspenders and the women wore long skirts. Standing between them were always a gaggle of morose kids who stared flatly into the camera as if it had ruined their lives.   
Forget the roller coaster or round-up,  this was the attraction we hit first in our summer shorts and striped shirts, our overbites not yet corrected, our quarters gripped by fingers sticky with cotton candy. 
Photos in hand we'd huddle to view, and then argue with the results: 
"Mine looks like Curly from the Three Stooges."
"Mine's all dressed up but he's next to a tractor and a bale of hay"
"What'd you get?"
"Lemmee see yours."
And so on. 
Because young children worry about things like being kidnapped by spies, or attacked by bears, I wondered briefly what would happen if my future family were anything like this.  I remember thinking about that while walking barefoot to a store to buy candy because walking around town in bare feet wasn't horrifying yet. 
What would I do if he had a moustache? 
Eventually, my head was turned by a boy on the bus and I was able to advance to more serious things, like what if bear jumped out of the woods near the bus stop? 
There was horror in the world, both of the natural and manmade variety. There was a fire in France that killed 142 people. There were hurricanes and tornadoes and trains that ran over people.  For a while, everyone talked about Charles Manson. There were the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz.
My biggest problem however, was what would happen if my cat Mittens went out and never came home? 
What would I do without Mittens? 
Fifteen years ago, in the ghostly aftermath of 9/11, I watched our young kids watch us, watch their teachers, react. I worried that they would now begin to see the world as we adults did at that time – unpredictable, terrifying, a place that seemed impossible to control and where it would never again be possible, not really, to completely relax. 
But it struck me then and now, that to watch young children at play, particularly when they  don't feel watched, is to witness spirit as a puppy, in its most hapless and sprawling state, not yet curbed, still so infused with curiosity, imagination, and spontaneity, it can have the power to dwarf the hardest reality.    
For a while. 
I wish for us to make it last. To not over-inform. To not caution too much. 
I wish for us to know that despite incomprehensible changes in our adult worlds that fray the edges of our own spirit, we are still former children. For the sake of our current children, I wish for us to remember the days when we were more fascinated by what we didn't know, than fearful of it.   
Children did then, and children do now fill their minds with fantastic predicaments of their own making – of cats not coming home and  bears popping out of the woods and what kind of a husband that boy on the bus would make – all completely believable in the dark before sleep. But a child's spirit is a puppy, warm and irrepressible, a steadfast ally with the answer to everything and the power to show them a future worth dreaming about. 

To honor and shield that spirit as a puppy is one of the best things we parents can do to honor our child's time in life, and, the memory of the children we ourselves needed to be at such a time. 

Back when we worried about noises in the woods and marrying people who hadn't been around for several decades.


  1. One of the best things about becoming a mother was the chance to see the world again vicariously through our sons' eyes when they were still full of wonderment and to have the power to soothe their fears.

    1. Twice, I accidentally removed my reply to this. Sigh.

      But I wanted to tell you that I do so agree with your observation. When kids develop their take on the world, sometimes it shines a little light on our own. Thank you for visiting.

  2. I always worried about walking that line between making them fearful and making them realistic, cautious. I worry, now that they're away at school, that I didn't achieve the balance. Time will tell.

    1. I completely get that. I think it's true in a good way, that our influence, for better or worse reaches only so far. So many other factors come into play when they're away. It's been my observation thought, that the more mindful we are about finding balance, the closer we get. Even more than we think.

  3. This was a nice reminder to embrace those childlike tendencies we lose as adults.