Another spring weekend in Minnesota. A guy could get used to this. No swim meets, no hockey games, no need to be running Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect, and 20 Prospect Jr. to and fro. Just a couple days to play outside, catch up on chores, and throw the tennis ball for the Indomitable Moxie. Do you remember when life was this simple? When you woke up in the morning, lay in bed watching the sunlight streaming into the bedroom, and wondered what you should play today.
They say that youth is wasted on the young. I’m not so sure. The kids sure seem to enjoy it. And they are still kids. Nine and Ten, the height of childhood, old enough to ride the big rides at the Amusement Park, and still young enough to squeal with delicious terror. Adulthood is something enigmatic and distant, like a mountain range that never seems to get any closer. Yet mystery still lurks in the shadows, even though you feel protected and immortal. Oh, those Boo Radley summers. They lasted an eternity.
You never see the end coming. It comes on so slow, you look up one day and it is there. When I was a kid I used to have a re-occurring dream. In it I was playing with the kids on Prospect out in the middle of the street like we always did. When looking up through the ceiling of maples I saw a spaceship descending slowly, coming for us. Suddenly, I was overcome with fear, and began running for home, looking up to see the ship advancing on us. Suddenly the world was different, the reality that we knew was over and a new one was descending out of the sky. I never understood that dream, but in true Ray Bradbury fashion, I think I get it now.
The ship descending slowly towards us was adolescence. Like adolescence it never announces it’s coming until you realize one day it has arrived. Then everything changes. From age 13 until 17, our bodies convulse, and transform like Dr. Jeckl becoming Mr. Hyde. We become grotesques, long legged, knobby knees, our bodies too big and awkward for us to control. The face that looks back at us from the mirror takes on different proportions. Our noses, and ears suddenly stick out like a caricature.
I can remember the trips to Dr. Trifthauser’s. From 6th to 10th grade, I made a monthly visit to sit in that chair and have my braces torqued and adjusted. It was a form of medieval torture, as if the good Doctor, in his garish golf pants, were trying to extract a confession from me. Six chairs in a big room, facing a wall lined with one long carpeted bench, on which the youth of Batavia sat in silence, waiting for their turn. Kids from every elementary school in town, all together in the torture chamber on the second flood while their Mom’s waited outside.
In some ways, the Orthodontists’ office was the symbolic event that revealed the bonds between us and our families were about to be supplanted by bonds between us and our fellow prisoners, in a coming of age ritual that never made the pages of the National Geographic’s hanging in the magazine rack. For six years we would be prisoners in our own bodies. Serving time as the Inquisitor did his best to extract a confession for crimes we had yet to commit. Is there anything more unjust in life than adolescence? Is it any wonder that when we are finally released we go crazy with our new found freedom, and race headlong to try out the tools of adulthood which we are so unprepared to use?
So let the kids play. Let them be kids. It will be over all too soon. All we can do is to love them, and prepare them for what lies ahead. There is no point in telling them. They wouldn’t believe us if we did.