Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Tale of Two Kiddies

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Sometimes at the same time. So it goes when you are six years old, I suppose. And also the parents of a six-year-old.

We went camping in the Finger Lakes for Labor Day weekend. Which was a first for me, as I'd never really been one to "do things" on holiday weekends. Usually I was working, but being unemployed has given me a newfound sense of liberation and adventure, and I now have no problem just taking off for the long weekend, work be damned. I'm a rebel, me.

I've been doing quite a bit of traveling this past month. The weekend before Labor Day involved a trip up to Maine, sadly for a funeral, though it's still a toss-up whether that or the camping trip was more stressful in the end. Most of us have now forgotten—having been adults for so long—the special power a kid has for taking even the most straightforward of situations and turning them into the end of the world. I think that just happens to be our kid's superpower, actually.

Anyway, my recent travels back and forth across New York state have revealed to me that sometimes a staycation, when undertaken in the right way, can take you to more places than even traveling half-way round the world. Just a few hours down Route 90 brings you to exotic locales like Rome, Syracuse, Ithaca, Amsterdam, Troy, Geneva, Liverpool, and Berne, just to name a few. You can also, it turns out, get to a fun little place called De Nial, and return to it again and again and again. But you have to take a kid with you; apparently only they know the way. In this wonderful land the real world is kept at bay by a careful rejection of reality for a version only you understand and can envision, a refusal to admit that your way is not the only way, and an adamant belief that if you just scream loud enough everyone will give up and do exactly as you expect.

As I said, a couple weeks ago I had to go to a funeral. It was for a distantly related family-member, though as a lot of people probably know, the length of the branch doesn't always indicate actual distance on the family tree. Although we'd only seen this branch of our family for a week a year, I'd known them since I was born, and spent some of the best times of my life with our Maine Family. The past handful of years had seen fewer trips up to Maine—there was something about a year abroad, or some such nonsense—and I'd forgotten all the exotic places we used to pass on the way up to old New England. It's funny how sometimes it takes a funeral to get all the right people back in the right place again. Perhaps it even brings back that special childhood ability to have the best and the worst time at the same time that we all seem to lose as adults. I enjoyed spending time with all the people I'd been closest to as a child. It was also quite miserable at times, for obvious reasons.

The past few weeks, with all its trials and tribulations and tripping up and down the state have shown me how much we, as adults, have evolved to simply put up with things. Much as many of us would call ourselves perfectionists, we've moved far beyond the point where anything in life must be perfect. We've learned to tolerate imperfection for the sake of practicality—and yes, survival, when it comes down to it but let's face it, kids live in a world in which they already have most of the necessities of survival handed to them as if they're naturally occurring so really they don't see a problem in seeking perfection over survival—and rarely choose to fight when it comes to getting something just right. And when we do we're usually labeled childish.

Kids have an amazing capacity for dreaming life. At times it's incredibly unintelligible to the rest of us, to the point where it seems like there are two kids living inside the one we can see right there in front of us. There's the happy one, for whom the tiniest things evoke wonder and enjoyment. Then there's the unhappy one, for whom the tiniest things evoke fear and impending doom. And we really never know which one to expect, even to the point where a treat like going to get ice cream turns into a situation worthy of an emergency emotional meltdown. And with all these swings, a kid can still end the weekend by pronouncing that, "It was a pretty good camping trip, Dad."

Now back to that first "I'm home, oh my god a whole new foreign world called parenting" post. Yes, you can often find whole new crazy worlds, exotic places, imaginary lands without even leaving familiar ground. But if anything, all the new kid-mergencies have taught me that life is rarely an emergency, that just like getting to the other side of the world may seem scary and stressful and never-ending, getting to the other side of a crazy weekend doing a new thing with a six-year-old is stressful and can seem never-ending, but one happy wrap-up is all it takes to make things worthwhile.

I think. Tomorrow is the first day of first grade, after all. Things may change. Unexpectedly.

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