This morning, Kellen and I went for a walk on the trail near our house. At one point, he found a stick and sat down in the dirt to carve doodles in the sand. We sat listening to the birds who had creeped out of their homes in the cacti, and perched atop the prickly plants. I thought how lucky my kids will be to have an open space to roam each day.
Despite some cultural shortcomings, I had a very lovely childhood. I feel a bit of guilt for writing so much about the small-minded attitude of many small town citizens, without describing the wonder that surrounds a life in rural America. I spent a blissful morning with my son, and I’m grateful that he has nature so readily accessible. But I am also a bit melancholy that he will never have the kind of childhood I did.
At the end of my first grade year, my family moved to a new house about twenty miles from a major city. The house had an unobstructed view of Pikes Peak. Whenever I visit Colorado, I still never feel like I am home, until I see that mountain.
I have four brothers and one sister. The home my parents purchased sat on ten acres of land. Our closest neighbors also had six children and ten acres of land of their own. Between the two families, we had enough children to play a baseball game, and enough land to construct a baseball field- which we did. Nothing fancy- just a spot in the field that had been mowed down and pieces of wood to create bases. But still- we had our own baseball diamond.
Between the two families, we also had a small farm. My family owned two cows- Lucy and Daisy, a goat, some chickens, a couple of dogs, and my very first cat, Tiger. The neighbors had two horses, a pig, some ferrets, and various dogs, cats, and chickens of their own.
What I remember most about those years is that we just had space to explore. During the summer months, we’d wake early and eat breakfast, and then head out into the field. My mother did not worry about our walking unattended. From our balcony, she could see us in the distance, and if we should fall and scrape a knee, there was always a group of children able to run home and report the news. With twenty acres to roam, it felt like we could walk forever.
The fields were alive with plants and animals. I picked wildflowers every day, placing the bouquets in empty soda cans or plastic butter tubs. We caught various kinds of lizards in glass jars, watching them for a day or two before releasing them into the wild.
The neighbors had a pond with reeds that grew over our heads. We paddled a tiny boat around the pond, pretending to be explorers braving the wilds of the jungle. When the summer temperatures soared, the pond would dry up so we could walk on it. We’d tie the reeds into houses, creating a whole village of buildings to roam in.
On holidays, we’d invite everyone from our church over for a potluck. The food is never so good as the food at a church gathering. Everyone prepared their best desserts and sides. My dad would grill hamburgers and hotdogs. We’d churn our own ice cream and eat until our bellies stuck out.
One day, two gentlemen came walking up our road, leading a llama loaded with backpacking gear. The older kids stopped to talk to them as the younger ones petted the animal. We found out they were on some sort of cross country charity walk- for what organization, I do not remember. But the neighbors invited them to stay for the night. Their mom went to the town over and rented a VCR and movies- back in those days, you could rent a VCR because they were still expensive to own. My mom cooked up a mess of food, and we all spent the night listening to their stories, stuffing our faces, and watching movies. It was one of those evenings where everything felt perfect.
I’ve met a friend who lives in our neighborhood and also has two boys. One day, she had the flu, and asked if I’d mind letting her kids play at our house so she could get some rest. I was happy to help out.
A few days later, she thanked me and said “if you ever need me to return the favor, let me know. I have this vision of a neighborhood where the kids can wander from house to house, playing together, and everyone helping out.” It is the same vision I have. I hate to think of my kids not knowing the freedom to explore. Of getting on their bikes and just being able to ride until they find something interesting enough to look at that they have to stop.
Of course, I know my kids’ reality is not the same as the one I grew up in. They don’t have fields to roam with the safety of a mother within earshot. I realize now I spent my formative years in an idyllic bubble where simple things like growing your own vegetables and gathering eggs were not considered trendy- they were normal.
After our walk this morning, Kellen’s little legs got tired and he asked me to carry him. I gathered him in my arms and he rested his head on my shoulder. From the time he was born, I have always called him my Baby Dew or my Baby Dew Drop. I wrote a lullabye for him using this nickname, and I quietly sang it to him as we meandered home. I pondered how I may not be able to provide that almost surreal childhood experience for him, but I can make sure his days are filled with beauty and wonder- even if there is the sound of airplane in the background and a McDonald’s sign off in the distance.