I often think how much less our parents were in our lives than we are in our children. They preferred to watch us from a distance, offer us independence early on while we stand so close, anxious and eager to smooth every little bump and stumble for ours. It’s not a criticism but more of an observation.
We seemed to run free in our neighborhoods. There was no such thing as a “playdate.“ That would have seemed absurd at best. We would play in the corn fields all day. The field mice running quickly near our feet and the flies buzzing against our sunburned faces. We didn’t have sunblock, of course. (Add to that, no hand sanitizer, either.) If it was around it was far too precious to spend money on. The word “proactive” wasn’t part of anyone’s vocabulary. Instead, we had Palmer’s Cocoa Butter or Noxema to slather on our burnt necks and legs. Or cold baths with vinegar. “Reactive” was a word and that’s how most incidents were handled.
My older brothers collected beer cans (can you imagine today, letting your kids collect empty, dirty beer cans and letting them display them pyramid-style in their bedrooms??) and my sister and I would catch salamanders and trap them in the steel milk box. We never went into people’s houses to play -- we played outside mostly, unsupervised. I couldn’t tell you what the inside of our neighbor’s house looked like -- I do know that all of their kids’ birthday parties were done in the garage and the mom used to hand us windmill cookies out of her screened door.
My parents also had a cottage on a small lake in Wisconsin. On the summer weekends we would hustle into the VW bug and head up old Route 12 to the lake. Seven of us piled into a tiny VW bug. My youngest brother and I would call “back back”. It was the tiny boot behind the small backseat -- really in modern terms, a death box. No car seats, no airbags to decapitate the heads of children weighing under eighty pounds, only the sudden rear-end crash that would clearly end us all (at the very least, my brother and me). We squished in the back back, with hardly any room to breathe. the growl of the engine blocking out any dialogue and yet we were delighted. Yet, somehow, we seemed to always remain unscathed. We were a lucky bunch, weren’t we?
It's one of my favorite memories -- the red VW bug, all seven of us squished together, heading to the cottage, a weekend of swimming and playing at the park. Up until Sean's diagnosis, my life has been pretty carefree -- for that I am grateful. When I think of my life before Sean‘s diagnosis I laugh sadly to myself and say “back, back.” During the tough moments, when Sean can't be soothed and we are all exhausted, I wish I could, for the briefest moment, go back back. I want to ride carefree and happy, hot wind knotting my hair, not knowing what is about to crash into me.
7 months ago