I think every mom wants to give her child the best growing up experience possible. Lately, I've been thinking a lot about what that means. Part of that has included reflecting on my own childhood and the treasures that made it special--that is to say, the series of positive learning moments that shaped me into the adult I have become. One night, I had a deep discussion with Chad about the thoughts spinning around in my head, and my heart was kind of sad when I was struck with a huge realization: Kaden can't have the childhood I had.
I was not raised as a farm girl, as my dad is not a farmer, but I was definitely raised as a country girl. There is a distinct difference between the two, and I in no way want to come across as a poser by giving a false impression of my childhood and adolescence. Having said that, there is a certain degree of childhood freedom that one obtains from growing up surrounded by fields of wheat, corn, and potatoes, instead of next-door neighbors, regardless of whether or not your dad's job description includes driving a combine (something my dad definitely knew how to do, even if it wasn't his official profession).
And that's where my heart starts to ache for Kaden, just a little bit. Some of my best memories of my childhood involve me being completely unchaperoned for hours at a time, whilst I rode my bicycle over miles of dirt roads; collected pollywogs from ditches in mason jars; and watched dust devils whirl, listening to the hum of the wind that constantly raged in Moses Lake, Washington.
Knowing Kaden is going to grow up a city kid has left me with questions . . .
For example, how is he going to learn to swim, without going to Lybbert's Pond every summer? Don't get me wrong . . . I took swimming lessons in a public pool of the chlorinated variety, but I don't have fond memories of those. What I remember from my swimming instruction at McCosh Park is an obese, red-headed woman screaming at me and my peers, trying to get us to float with our faces in the water, while she recited some kind of rhyme about us pretending to be starfish. I was a sensitive child. I didn't respond well to her teaching style. That's why I spent most of the lessons clinging to the side of the pool in pure fear. My memories of Lybbert's Pond are a bit friendlier: Basking in the sun while floating on a wooden raft (the same one my friend Callie taught me to dive from when we were in Junior High), belly flopping off the notorious rope swing, and watching my mom and Brenda Goodrich back float together, laughing.
How is he going to learn to be independent and responsible, without raising sheep for 4-H? Sure, I only did this for a couple of years, but getting up at 5 a.m. to feed those suckers? That's the groundwork for responsibility, folks! I just don't know if a golden retriever that sleeps in the house can accomplish the same thing . . . just sayin'.
How is he going to know where our food comes from? Chad and I watched an episode of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution once, where an entire class full of elementary school kids didn't know what a potato was. A POTATO, people! They knew what a french fry was, but they had not an inkling of the reality that one came from the other. "How preposterous!" I exclaimed. But now . . . I'm starting to wonder. Sure, Kaden will know what a potato is . . . but will he know where it comes from? Or will he think it grows in one of the shiny, labeled plastic sacks that we buy at the grocery store?
And how is Kaden going to learn to bake without Bonnie Byington teaching him to level ingredients? She was my first cooking teacher, other than my mom and grandmas. Brenda Goodrich was my second. We all know that a cooking teacher other than a mom is essential, and I had the cream of the crop. Even though I sabotaged her experiment regarding whether a made from scratch or store-bought pancake mix would taste better (by pouring pickle juice into the store-bought batter--with the assistance of her two granddaughters . . . Poor Sister Byington).
Don't get me wrong. I am in no way suggesting I have a desire to relocate to Smallville, USA. I kind of always knew I would live in a bigger place someday. I happen to be quite content five minutes from a mall. From a museum. From a grocery store that sells fancy, shmancy foodie-items that make me feel like a gourmet chef. The sad truth is that the world has changed, even in the short time it took me to grow up, and it's likely that even if we lived in a tiny speck of a town on the eastern side of the mountains in Washington State, Kaden wouldn't have the exact same childhood I did. I think that's where most of the sadness comes from--knowing there is so much more to fear in the world today.
And so I take him to countless parks. I push him in the jogging stroller on greenways, where for a minute or two we feel like we're all alone in the woods.
I take him to the pool in our apartment complex and watch him splash like a fish in the chlorine-scented abyss, his head bobbing above water, his arms banded with polka-dotted water wings.
I sing, "Clean up! Clean up! Everybody every where! Clean up! Clean up! Everybody do their share!" while he helps me put away his toy trucks, his plastic fruit, his mountains of picture books. I take a deep breath and try to be patient while he insists on putting his shoes on all by himself, even though they end up on the wrong feet half of the time. His exclamation of, "I DID IT!" making me think he is learning independence, a little at a time.
I take Kaden to the farmer's market and point out all of the delectable treats we get to enjoy because someone grows them for us to buy.
I let him stand on a five gallon bucket in my kitchen to watch while I sift the whole-wheat flour to make chocolate-chip banana muffins.
And I take him to do things that I didn't get to do as much of as a kid, because I lived in a different place:
We go to an art festival downtown and look at sculptures, pottery, photographs, and paintings.
We go to the science museum and look up at the skeleton of a whale.
We go to story time and dance while Mr. Eric plays his crazy songs on the guitar. The songs he writes just for the tiny visitors of the Cameron Village Library.
We go to the beach and listen to the waves crashing against the shore.
And suddenly, my heart doesn't feel quite as sad, even though I still wish we lived in a safer, simpler world, where I could trust strangers just a little bit more.