Monday, June 15, 2009

Second Childhood

Children are constantly looking forward to when they are grown up and can "do anything they want," only to discover that, as adults, what they want most is to recapture those same pleasant experiences from simpler days.

I have always loved summer. To me it was a blank canvas stretching out with endless possibilities. As a child, I rose with the sun to perch outside on our back steps. The grass was cold and heavy with dew under my bare feet. The shadows were long and cool, covering the whole lawn in shade. Rabbits nibbled on grass under the fragrant lilac bushes that sagged from their profusion of blooms, squirrels chased each other in circles--nails clattering against the bark of a tree, the birds were unbelievably loud with no competition from the human world. I would sit, hugging my knees to my chest, chin on my arms and all was well in my world.

The grown-up version goes like this: I rise every morning at 5:30 AM. I sit with my husband and the cat on our back porch, sipping coffee from our favorite mugs. The wicker rocker is cozy, the Sunset Begonia on the glass-topped table dazzles with its display of lavish color. I am fond of it, treating it more like a pet than a plant, greeting it with affection every morning. The sun warms my back from the east, shadows lay across the entire yard. Green is greener at this time of day, without the sun to dilute the color, and the poppies in their bed are more orange. Two squirrels chatter as they chase each other around a nearby tree trunk and the cat watches them with tense interest. I hear a cardinal calling from the neighboring pasture. Above our heads in the hanging fern a mother finch sits nervously on her four tiny eggs, not realizing my nest-robbing days are long past. Every day I water the fern with great care so that I don't betray her tentative trust and all is well in my world.

One staple of every summer of my childhood was water. Not a big fan of actual swimming, (see photo evidence above) I was content with other more predictable water sources such as the hose and the sprinkler. The most thrilling aquatic experience of all was when the city custodians came around and flushed out the fire hydrant on the corner of our street. Gallons of water gushed out of this little red lawn ornament and we were awed at such a display of latent potential. Water shot halfway across the street and ran in torrents alongside the curb all the way down to the storm drain at the Standard Station. We braced our skinny legs in the water, marveling at the force with which it rushed over our feet and ankles. We danced, we splashed, we made boats of sticks and raced them down the street. Water meant play.

Now that I am grown, I can turn on the hose whenever I want. I can waste water if I am so inclined. In Minnesota, water comes out of the hose at temperatures just above freezing all summer long. I love the smell of water and the smooth way it feels. I collect gadgets that make water exit the hose in various forms--soak, stream, and shower. I like to switch them up, streaming the patio clear of ant hills that sprout up overnight, showering the day lilies, misting the ferns. Sometimes, I just stand in the middle of the yard and spray water at the grass and watch the rainbows I can manipulate. Water still means play.

The highlight of every summer was when our neighbors got their annual delivery of sand. At one point, I think there was an actual sandBOX that was supposed to contain the sand. But years of redistribution by a dozen children in the neighborhood had blurred the boundaries and the sand mostly spilled where it wanted and became known as The Sand Pile. After the dump truck left, we were giddy with excitement. We took turns burying each other in sand up to our necks. We built entire cities of sand using a brick to make roads for our Matchbox cars and lining up marbles and twigs for borders. Some days, we were literally in the sand from sun up to sundown, only stopping to eat and go to the bathroom. Every night, Mom would run us a hot bath and scrub the sand out of our hair and the orange rust stains from our knees and hands. We felt pleased with the beautiful cities we fashioned with our sweat and creativity.

I haven't had a replacement for my childhood love of digging and construction until more recent years when I have discovered an amazing fact about myself: I am a gardener. I never thought I was. I didn't know how much I loved flowers and making habitats for them to grow and flourish, making borders with stones and blankets of shredded cypress. My first act of every day is to walk around and inspect what is growing. Sand piles have been replaced by piles of mulch--twigs and marbles by stones, trellises, and planter hooks. Every time I see a perennial planted in previous years peeking through the mulch, I am delighted as though greeting an unexpected guest. Every day there are weeds to pull, new things to observe. I feel pleased with the beautiful garden we have fashioned with our sweat and creativity.

I feel sorry for those whose summer has become just one more season of frenzied dashing from one activity to another. Sometimes it's a good thing to step back and apply the brakes. This year, we have no vacation plans. We have one summer sport on the docket that is done mid-July. The rest of the season I intend to putter around---planting, watering, weeding--perhaps some scraping and painting which are continual projects on a hundred year-old house. I'll hang clothes on the line and give the dryer a rest, fire up the grill at odd hours of the day, drink gallons of iced tea, lay on the porch and read while I listen to the finches feed their noisy babies above me. Some evenings, we'll light a fire in the pit and make S'mores. I'll pitch the tent and sleep out with my daughter and grandson right in our own yard. That's enough excitement for me. Maybe I'm getting old?
Or maybe I'm getting younger...


  1. Love your writing...

  2. Oh this is cute. I love this. Mmm relaxing summer. That's what I like!

  3. I love "our" memories! This last picture is so fun! I look like a darker and older version of Claire! Isn't that funny? Sounds like you have wonderful summer plans! Hey, you do have plans, you're having lots of company!