Sunday, June 26, 2011
Every year the fair comes to our town, just like in Charlotte's Web. There are some differences: there aren't any animals. The pickup trucks parked in the dirt are - most of them - built after 1990. But the smells, the sounds, the expression on kids' faces - these are lasting images of the fair that I don't imagine have changed much since the 1940s.
This year we were minus a boy - T spent the weekend with his grandparents, one boy alone with all that love - his birthday gift. Back in New Hampshire, two kids and two parents equals an easy outing; I'm always shocked by the difference it makes, having a one-on-one ratio. I took L to the bungy jumping trampoline thingy while M took B on the rearing motorcycles. Well, tried to take B - who was having none of it. Four rides attempted, four rides that had to be stopped so hysterical B could be plucked from the carousel horse/miniature train/motorcycle/honking car. He did make it through the fun house, though there a few tense moments in the clanging forest of metal bars and I had to carry him through the great spinning wheel. And he found the huge yellow slide to be just fine, as long as he could ride in Daddy's lap.
L had no fear and would ride even the teenagers' toys if he were tall enough. My favorite part of the fair is watching him on the bungy jumping trampoline thingy. He leaps, he does splits in the air, he somersaults forwards and backwards. Last year the power cut out partway through his turn and he was stuck up there for about 20 minutes; by the time he was released he'd drawn a crowd of spectators who clapped and cheered at his flips. My seven-year-old boy, who knows all the words to both Simple Gifts and We Will Rock You and can make surly carnival workers grin with his own joy at being high in the air. And upside down.
While L was reaching greater and greater heights a little boy ran by with hands linked to a much older brother who had a giant, plastic blown-up hammer under his arm. The hammer was stored under rickety metal steps while the two scrambled into the Tilt 'O Whirl ride. The little brother - made powerful by a superman cape hung from the back of his shirt - got to choose the best cup. His face told the world: this is the best. night. ever. The fair season is short - get a piece of errant cotton candy caught in your eye and you'll miss it. It won't be very many years until M and I can sit on a bench and send the boys on ahead to win their own giant hammers and make themselves dizzy on gravity-defying rides. I bet we'll follow along behind, though. I bet we'll make a few tries for our own goofy hammers.
Two kids are easier than three but I missed my three last night. I hoped they missed each other, too, even just a little.
Twain once said “To a man with a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail” I spent a few years of my life-- the ones right out of school--fumbling and flailing while trying to make sense of the world on my own. There was a time when I was too shy or maybe too defensive to let myself experience what was around me, blinded by what I thought to be true. Instead I chose to play it safe and, ever the conservative, I made my way somehow.
This past week we made the journey to the middle school gym, along with friends and family to celebrate the last day of classes with our eighth graders. Come this fall they will be attending the high school, though it seems like just yesterday they were starting kindergarten. This particular evening was a chance for us to relive memories of the past year and rejoice in friendships and all that they have learned. The principal spoke about his experience with this set of kids and he likened their time in middle school to a roller coaster; which seemed very apt given that their class trip was to an amusement park and for some it was their first experience riding on one. Once you do it’s easy to understand how slow it can be to ascend before hurriedly plummeting to the depths. It’s enough to make your head spin. True, middle school can also have that effect on some. Mr. N also talked about the tools they were given these past few years, and how these skills would serve them well as freshman. My hope for all of the graduates is to possess the ability to differentiate between those tools. To know when to use self restraint and when to indulge, to know that language has a hierarchy and when to show some control in word choice and when to let it all fly. To have the realization that there is always a choice; an advanced technology is not always necessary, a simple one can often do a better job. To quote that old scholar Albus Dumbledore: “There may come a time when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy.”
It took me a great many years to see the power tools wield both figuratively and literally. I am constantly amazed at the effect the right pan, pot, or cutting implement can have when I bake. I try to be resourceful and substitute when I don’t have when the recipe calls for, but sometimes sticking to the printed sheet in front of me gets the best results. On Monday I had the chance to see for myself the beauty of Dale Chihuly’s glass sculptures when I visited the MFA in Boston. In each room of the gallery there were quotes from the artist on the wall. One sentiment that really struck me was when he spoke about hitting the glass to shape it as he knew he should, but it wasn’t until he worked with the fire and flames, using them as a tool as well, that he began to create such beautiful works. Touring the
rooms I was gripped by the desire to touch everything, yet knowing one wrong move could send it all crashing to the floor. Chihuly addressed the issue of fragileness at the beginning of the exhibit when he referenced a time when he purposely threw his works into the river to test their resiliency. They surprised him by being stronger than he imagined. As my son walked across the stage to receive his diploma in the midst of his friends and classmates, I could see how these kids were stronger than we think, yet at the same time as fragile as a teacup. With every teenager there are moments of striking out with mean words, hands and fists, and the next moment wishing desperately for the comforting arms of a hug. No matter how old he gets, T will always be my child and that gives me the right to hug him whenever I please.
It’s sometimes hard for me to acknowledge how much he’s grown. At the end of the celebration I realized that the next time we are gathered together it will be for his graduation from high school. And then the whole world will be opening up to him. I can see myself helping him pack, making sure the car is chock full with bits of this and that he will need in his new life, including a hammer to hang a photograph or two on the wall. He could probably use an old shoe, but this way the nail is sure to go in straight.
Next Week's Word: Tobacco