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Monday, February 1, 2010

Essence

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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.


13 comments:

Richard & Natalie said...

Oh Lori, I can relate to all of this. From the trends of the day to watching the shuttle explode and the nightmares I had afterwards. You did a beautiful job describing some facets of my own childhood and my wish for my own kids to be as carefree and happy. I sometimes wonder what they will look back on and remember from their own childhoods and how will I factor in?

You know you have a great post when the reader runs the gamut of emotions like I did with this one. Two thumbs up!

Rachel said...

Well Miss Natalie. Your comment I could just add a ditto to!

I can't tell you how many times I long for my children to have the carefree childhood that I had. The one you just described and yet as you say....I think the worrying is mainly us. Kids adapt and to them, they are happy and carefree....or at least we hope they are.

Mamma has spoken said...

Love it that I grew up in the 60's and read "Are You There God, It's me Margaret" too, in 7th grade. I remember it as if it was yesterday. As for songs that had hidden meaning, I had them to, "Afternoon Delight" and "Gyspies, Tramps and Thieves" were all scandlous. Funny thing too is I had no clue what the brooha was until I was an adult! Guess that could be the same for you with a certain Cyndi Laper song, "She-bob" or something like that.
Though I was listening to the radio in my car yesterday and the song lyrics had something about having enough condoms and a king size bed.....

Lori said...

Thanks, Natalie! There's no better compliment than "I can relate" in my book.

Rachel--I think we just need to relax, you know? Stop worrying about that lead paint and stuff.

Mamma--too funny! I hadn't realized AYTGIMM had been written as far back as that. Amazing, transcendant book. And yep...that's "She Bop" by Lauper, and as far as that went--NOT A CLUE, thankfully. Kind of like when Lawson belts out the lyrics to Nate Mathison and Sugarland's "Come On Get Higher" and doesn't have any inkling of it's meaning. As for the condoms and king size bed...the trick here is SUBTLETY, which some artists have never figured that out.

Anaise said...

That was a delightful walk down memory lane . . . I DO remember the Smurfs and pretty much everything else you remember.

And I, too, wish I could ignore the effects of red #40 and yellow #5 and so forth and so on and just let my kids BE.

But I can't.

And I, too, think their childhood is happy in spite of all my worries.

(We mothers are so much alike.)

Gerb said...

I think I just relived a large part of my childhood reading that post. The books! The clothes! The Smurfs! Everything was comfortably familiar. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

PMC said...

Ditto....everything...very much the same. Wonderful post!

Lori said...

Anaise--Motherhood. It's a universal illness?

Gerb and Misty--yall are so welcome, and thanks. I'm so glad we shared the same 80s insanity, and therefore cannot mock each other's sense of "style" or "rhythm."

Ginna said...

Did our parents worry as much as we worry? Is it possible?
That would answer some of the questions I guess. But I think you're right. Kids are kids and they'll find magic in their little world. We just have to be there to make sure they survive it all--right?

Lori said...

Ginna--What a job we have as parents! Making sure that our kids find that magic--all the while with a smile to hide that omnipresent worry. And I'm sure our parents worried as much as we do, and probably still do, if I know my mom. :)

Linn said...

I LOVE this post! I actually like the thought of taking my kids' worries for the time. I remember my childhood being quite worry free and I would love to give that gift to my kids. I'll take on their worries anytime it makes life easier on them. Did I mention I love this post?

Rebecca D said...

I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane... I think the magic of childhood still exists if the parents try to protect it...
Thanks for dropping by my blog today!

Lori said...

Linn--thanks for the thumbs up--I love your take on this. It is a gift to have a carefree childhood, one that leaves us with memories like this.

Rebecca--I guess that's what makes it magical, hmmm? :)

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