Keeping things little, so the world can be big
Heather wrote, inviting us to celebrate Halloween in the "back country" of New Hampshire. Here is how she described the festivities:
"They are doing a costume parade/snacks for little ones at the school in town in the late afternoon and then a hayride to the farm next door where there is a corn maze. The students from the theater group at the local college dress up and hand out candy in the maze and then you walk down Main Street a little bit back to the school and trick or treat at those houses if you want on the way back to the car."
I keep reading that little description, those two sentences, and almost tearing up. That is what I mean by a lost american childhood. What I'm trying to get at, to some degree. The parade and hay ride. Local school. College kids dressing up and playing with little kids. A corn maze. Main Street. And the moderation of it. Meet in the late afternoon -- not all day, how much can we cram in to feel like we are really doing something, this isn't kids stuff, this is an event. Nobody selling anything. Moderation even in the trick or treating. You walk down Main Street "a little bit" and trick or treat "if you want to". On the way back to the car. True, the car is problematic, not something to be idealized, and living in a city walking everywhere and sharing resources is certainly more sustainable. But... it's getting dark, or probably dark out already, and you're on the way back to the car. You do a little something to celebrate the holiday, something that's fun for kids, without too much hoopla, without too many photo ops or expectations, and then you go home. You go home. You're not expected to push yourselves and your kids to the last possible second, to the breaking point. You're not expected to spend money you really don't have. Not to Norman Rockwell-ize it, maybe the kids will all buy $80 costumes and get their hair and makeup done for the day, who knows? Maybe the field will be crawling with vendors selling glow-in-the-dark necklaces and plastic pumpkins. Maybe after you get to your car there's a tail-gate party then a baby halloween disco. But it sure sounds simple and lovely. Almost sounds like no time at all would be given to meet. Just, "Oh, we'll see you out there in the late afternoon sometime."
And the trick, for me anyway, is to sieze on things like this that affect me, and take what I can from them. Even if it's only imagining this scene to be something it's not or won't be. What is it that appeals? The idea of simple, homemade and handed-down costumes, the moderation in time and expense, the mix of ages playing together, the willingness to call it a night without wondering "What else is out there? What am I missing?". The smallness that's big. Having something little and feeling fulfilled by it. There are ways to live like this in New York, it's just not as natural sometimes. But you can be just as busy and squeezed and pressured to spend lots of time and money outside of a city as in one. I have a whole other post written about this (in my head).
What that small-town scene conjures up for me is what I want to work toward. So that the childhoods we had, the ones that took place before cell phones, play dates, music classes for 1-year-olds, Facebook and flickr, won't have been the last authentic experience of that magical time. So that we don't trade in the imagination for some dangling carrot of high-achievement for kindergarteners, where soon there will be classes--are there already?--on how to play make-believe. So there will be many new wonderful, shapeless days, with lots of tree-climbing and little gardens and makeshift toys and dirty hands and open time and space. So that we won't try so hard to hold onto being a kid ourselves that we make that particular childhood last far longer than it should have, obscuring the view of the ones that are taking place now. But I also want to be sure to hold onto those elements that make childhood magical, to continue to sing whenever we feel like it, laugh at the wrong times, play music too loud. So that last american childhood won't be mistaken for lost, so that last becomes instead lasting, so that the memories will be imprinted, not just in digital archives but in living, spinning ones, in stories we tell, like the ones Heather and I have -- so many -- from the days when we first met, giggling six-year-olds at a little table by the window, painting glue on tissue-paper fish, staring out at the playground, dreaming about what great things we could run off and do the second the bell rang for recess, and we stepped outside into the sun.