I took my son to my own elementary school earlier this week. We were off all day and it was a beautiful day for a drive so we went to my hometown, which is a little over an hour away. I drove him by my house I grew up in, which is all boarded up and condemned, and pointed out places I used to play. “What things did you like to do, Mom?” he asked. He always has such good questions for a 5-year old. I told him I liked running, like he does, and physical play, and reading books, and that I rode my bike all over town, but most often would ride it to my best friend’s house and she and I would ride bikes everywhere. When I got a little older and had a different best friend, we also rode our bikes all over, but that was mostly to look for boys to talk to, whereas in elementary, we were just all about having fun.
I showed him the path I used to walk on to school, which is now overgrown and inaccessible, but at least the woods is not completely torn down. I didn’t tell him about the hotel deconstruction ruins adjacent to the path that we used to play in, all rusty support beams and broken glass pieces and pointy concrete. He’ll find his own such fun, I’m sure. Or about all the trouble I got into when my friend suggested we jump on my neighbor’s trampoline without asking anyone’s permission, leaving shoe prints all over it and leaving me grounded. I showed him where our dogs lived, and how there was a swingset and garden in the large backyard years ago, and tried not to feel bad that I don’t have a house for him, or a yard, or a swingset, or pets. Or a sibling to do stuff with in said yard.
It was different when I went. I had an older sister who looked out for me. She was in in 4th grade when I started, and so we were in elementary together for two years. We wouldn’t be at the same school together at the same time again until college (Kent State), when I had an entering semester that overlapped with her final semester. She was the one who told me about The Path and showed me the way, as she always did, and would for years to come – in high school, at our college, with motherhood.
I read an article today about how a lot of new stuff you buy for your kindergartner gets quickly discarded as older kids make fun of things like shoes that light up or backpacks that have superhero pictures on them. This makes me very, very angry even though I know it’s the way of things, and is one of those times I really wish D had an elder sibling. See, when I was in kindergarten that first week, I was waiting for her on the playground, at the top of the path, at the end of the school day, so we could walk home together. But some older kids had gotten together and were making fun of me, pushing me around a little. I don’t remember what was being said, just that I didn’t understand why they were picking on me. Suddenly, my sister was there, like Scylla in Marathon Man – a flash of fury and power and a big, sturdy plastic bookbag with flowers on it that was FULL of books, which she swung back and forth like an assassin, hissing at them, “Get AWAY from my sister!”
I showed D that spot, now growing through with weeds on the old playground that isn’t used much anymore, and his eyes got wide as he scanned my face to see if I was making the story up about his aunt, but he could see that I wasn’t. I have that same fury when I think of someone making fun of my kid’s cute and cool stuff that he painstakingly selected, and yet I also know it’s coming. I will try to teach him to be his own person instead of solving his problems by swinging his bookbag at people. My sister was not really prone to violence unless you picked on her little sister, but I was, and little D is so much like me, I have to channel that in a positive way for him, so he won’t end up so furiously angry and frustrated like I was.
I showed him how it was a bigger building than his preschool but not as big as his own elementary he was getting ready to start, and we walked all around it and looked in the windows. I don’t know why I did that, except to try to give him some perspective – I did this, and I am ok, and you will be too.
We didn’t spend a lot of time in my hometown. Some places have memories when I drive around that make me smile at their memory, but mostly I see places I got hurt – physically or emotionally, sometimes both – the yard where a guy I was dating chased me with a knife, the spot in the yard where I cried and cried when another boyfriend broke up with me, the spot near the school where I first got the courage up to tell a girl that I liked her and thought she was pretty. We outran those ghosts, grabbing some hometown pizza and sub, which is still good, and whisking it away before those memories could catch me.