Saturday, October 22, 2011

I'm Raising My Kids to Be Freaks; Or, Would You Like A Simple Life With That Dandelion Wine?

First, this:

Hesitantly, Grandfather, Douglas, and Tom peered through the large windowpane.

And there, in the small warm pools of lamplight, you could see what Leo Auffman wanted you to see.  There sat Saul and Marshall, playing chess at the coffee table.  In the dinning room Rebecca was laying out the silver.  Naomi was cutting paper doll dresses.  Ruth was painting water colors.  Joseph was running his electric train.  Through the kitchen door, Lena Auffman was sliding a pot roast from the steaming oven.  Every hand,  head, every mouth made a big or little motion.  You could hear their faraway voices under glass.  You could hear someone singing in a high sweet voice.  You could smell bread baking, too, and you knew it was real bread that would be soon be covered with real butter.  Everything was there and it was working.

Grandfather, Douglas, and Tom turned to look at Leo Auffman, who gazed serenely through the window, the pink light on his cheeks.

"Sure," he murmured.  "There it is."   And he watched with a now gentle sorrow and now-quick delight, and at last quiet acceptance as all the bits and pieces of this house mixed, settled, poised, and ran steadily again. " The Happiness Machine," he said.  "The Happiness Machine."

We're currently reading this in my sophomore honors English class.  We haven't had our first discussion yet, so we'll see how it goes.  I'm really hoping that at least half of them will "get it" (because, as I've found over 11 years of teaching, you'll never have everyone in class love every book you teach.  Often splits down the middle), because these kids are living in such a time of change, that very soon, things they take for granted will be utterly and completely gone.

Just like a lot of things in Dandelion Wine.  That's one of the reasons why I read it every year, regardless of whether or not I teach it (also, because it's just beautiful, too). But so many things have gone away that I used to take for granted.  Things have changed so much, and they'll never be the same.  And while some of these changes are for the good and pretty cool...

I'm starting to really miss all the things that are gone, or missing things that aren't gone, but soon will be.

Lately, I've been feeling my age.   Not physically, because I've been fortunate enough to stay healthy, keep in decent shape.  (My waist and I have come to an uneasy truce, neither of us advancing much either way).  Ironically, I've felt more alive and full of energy and driven these past four years than I did years prior.   And - one of the big positives of teaching high school - even if I'm not exactly "cool" or "hip", I seem to still get along well with the young'uns.

But more and more lately...I don't get the world around me.

And things are going away, things I'm having a hard time letting go of.

And they're all the small, little things.

That's probably why Dandelion Wine resonates with me so much.   Obviously, I don't remember the time period it took place in - the twenties - but that time resonates because it seems so much simpler.  Slower.   And that's what I miss most about my childhood.

Simplicity.

It's carefree slowness (ESPECIALLY over summer).

That scene above from Dandelion Wine - ah, hell.  Sure, it's completely nostalgic, old fashioned, maybe what lots of folks would consider backwards.  And, in a touch of modernity, there's no reason why Dad shouldn't be doing the cooking, (which I do a lot), or the girls shouldn't be playing chess or with the electric train (Madi can't wait for me to get the train set up and going).  But even though I grew up in the 80's and not the 20's, that's the way life was like for me.   And that's kinda how we run things around here, how I want things to be for our kids.   Not exactly perfect, like in the above excerpt...but simple.  Slow.

So they can be kids.  For as long as they can.

But when I look around at the world - especially the kids today, teens - things seem to move a thousand miles per hour.  What family does that anymore, right?  What family just hangs out together like that, especially in their summers, which today, when I listen to kids tell me about their daily schedules, sound like they're jam packed full of so many "THINGS" to do they never get a moment to breathe?  And that makes me think of what the world will be like for MY kids...and I feel afraid. Not for me, because I'm adaptable and stubborn.  I can stay current enough, but am stubborn enough to be "me", and that's all.

But I fear for my kids.  That, despite our best efforts, their childhoods will be truncated, abbreviated...even taken away by the onward, pell-mell rush and dash of the world.

I'm sure plenty of families still raise their families simply.  It just seems to be a bygone thing, though, and by raising my kids according to the Dandelion Wine model...I often wonder if they'll be freaks someday, because of how rapidly that's all changed.

But, call me old fashioned, freakish though they may seem...I think...I hope...I believe...they'll be happy.  Because life gets complicated fast enough.  I want my kids to at least be able to look back at childhood, and remember it as better, slower, more fun....than think of their lives as one, long, busy, insane blur.

And everyone's life is different.  You can't expect everyone to raise their families the same, and I don't.  Everyone has different circumstances, different methods, and I believe everyone does the best they can in those circumstances.  But honestly, I'm not concerned with anyone else's family, I'm concerned about mine.  And - freaks though they may become because of it - we'll always to do our best to keep things simple for our kids.

Even if the world around us isn't.  And, though I WANT my kids to be their own people, to discover their own paths...hopefully, because of what Abby and I have tried to do, they'll keep at least a little of that simplicity in their lives, too.