I'm being forced to do a lot of introspection in this Children's Lit class that I'm taking, mainly about the books that I read as a child and why I read them and how did they make me feel and so on and so forth.
I remember the comforting illustrations of Velveteen Rabbit and Where the Wild Things Are, and then it's like I took a flying leap to the Little House series, Nancy Drew, and Judy Blume. Blume was a bridge in herself--I progressed in the space of a year, I think, from Blubber and Are You There, God...It's Me, Margaret to Forever (gasp!). And then, of course, there were such classic favorites as Bridge to Terabithia, Anne of Green Gables, and the Chronicles of Narnia. They shaped my world, focused it, really, down to a narrow little pinpoint of existence: the page.
Beyond the page, I was like everybody else: your typical eighties child with Converse hightops worn over scrunchy doubled up socks in varied colors. I had my culottes and my friendship bracelets, painstakingly worked and blithely traded to girls whose names I don't remember anymore. I had my waist-length, feathered hair pulled into a side pony-tail, and I knew every word to every Madonna and Cindy Lauper song there was.
I still do.
It's funny, but the simple act of recalling the books that I read as a child has led me down rabbit trails of recognizance that I haven't visited in some time. Snapshots of memory, unattached to any real meaning, are nonetheless incredibly vivid. It's interesting--the things that your brain remembers, and recalls, when you least expect it.
Smurfs, for example. Remember waking up early on Saturday morning to watch Smurfette prance around the Smurf village? What were those writers thinking, to put a lone female in a village full of blue Smurfs panting after her? What message did that impart to us children?
And my dad's orange VW Bug. I remember sitting in the back of that tiny little car, my legs sticking to the leather seats and listening to the rev of its engine while wind poured in through the windows and beat my hair around my face. I would gulp it in, along with the sounds of Elton John on the tape deck. "Rollllling like THUNDER....under the cooooooovers....." Dad would croon, beating the steering wheel in time to the melody.
I remember a big, eager classroom of fifth graders, all of us seated expectantly on the carpeted floor. The lights were dimmed, and a television hovered in front of us. There were around five minutes of preliminary stuff, and then a rocket went airborne. And then....it exploded. Quiet pandemonium in that classroom. A teacher crying. "Christa McAuliffe..." Us: "What just happened? Did the rocket just blow up?" For a few moments, our world stood still.
There were my brothers (three of them) and their G.I. Joe figures and Lego building blocks that were just that--building blocks. None of this fancy stuff that Lawson has now. I'd marry the G.I. Joes to my Barbies sometimes, just because they were a little more butch than Ken. Barbie needed a strong man, with a strong hand. I'd heard that somewhere, but didn't remember where.
I remember bikes with streamers, plastic streamers that sang in the wind as I hurtled downhill in a mad rush to be the first to crash and skin my knee. There were forts in the woods behind our house, and castles in the pine trees that were perfect for reading those books I was so fond of. The creek was a rushing river, with gold if you looked hard enough.
I was a latchkey kid, but never felt scared, and rarely locked the door. You could count on supper to be served round the table, chores to be done before playtime, and somebody to be in your business at all times.
You could also count on Kool-Aid and sandwich cookies. I can still remember the exact placement of the cookie package in the lower cabinet, and how the pitcher was stained pink from the Kool-Aid.
When I was a child, all I wanted was to grow up. Now I struggle, with halting words and closed eyes, to regain the perfect essence of those memories. To smell the honeysuckle that scented the curve in the road next to our house, heavy in the summertime. To see how beautiful my mother looked when I was ten. To feel the velveteen of that ugly sofa in our livingroom one more time. To hear Smurfette's teasing voice on the tube.
The essence of my eighties childhood was double-edged. Uninhibited, and yet protected and secure. I want that back, for my own kids. I want them to be able to confidently run through a neighborhood, carefree, with no regard for personal safety. I want them to be able to listen to music and be innocent enough that they don't wonder about Jack having his hand between Diane's knees. I want them to be able to inhale red Kool-Aid and sandwich cookies and not worry about the effects of sugar on their bodies.
Or maybe...maybe the wondering and worrying is all on their parents, and not so much on them? Maybe that essence is still there, but I'm just blind to it because I've crossed that invisible line between childhood and adulthood.