Friday, November 5, 2010

"Where did you go?" "Out." "What did you do?" "Nothing."

I'm sitting here with Greta, thinking about her childhood — what will it be like? — and mine, and the possible difference between her upbringing (and mine) and that of the children around her. It can all be summed up by the title of a book we had around the house, a title that came bursting in on my mind uninvited this very moment.

How to Do Nothing With Nobody All Alone By Yourself. I derived endless joy just from the stubbornly redundant title; it seemed to speak with my voice about inchoate desires to live uninterrupted and uninterfered-with: every child's dream of adulthood, and (what we didn't realize when we were kids) every child's birthright. There's no such thing as even adult life that's truly uninterrupted and uninterfered-with, but every child, like every adult, needs getaway time, time to just be, time to do whatever.

The book itself had all sorts of information: how to make a little tank out of an empty spool and a rubber-band and a matchstick, the rules for mumbly-peg, how to make a kazoo out of a comb and plastic-wrap. But the book's entire frame was that a child not only should have a good bit of completely unstructured time, but could have such time.

Now, when I was a suburban middle-class kid in the 70s and 80s, I was indeed signed-up to the gills: Cub Scouts, piano lessons, bass lessons, Super Sleuths, all that. But I also had stretching arcs of time time time, tons of it, to play and explore and form clubs with my next-door neighbor, to roam the neighborhood unfettered, to play roughly six hundred million rounds of four-square on various neighbors' driveways, to swim, to play a game of my own invention involving the precision handling of a screwdriver one threw into the ground in just such a way.

That's what I want for Greta. Not just an upbringing like that, but a context in which an upbringing like that is possible.


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