December 10, 2010

Life Before Children

The ten year-old boy that thinks he runs the house asked me to tell him about how things were in "the olden days." It wasn't meant as a dig because to him thirty years ago is a foreign concept.He has seen pictures the of the curly haired boy I used to be and though he knows it is me, it is not quite me. It is hard to conceive of the time before he came into being, let alone a father who wasn't a grown up.

He wanted to know what life was like during my childhood. He knows that I played baseball and rode my bike. He knows that I went to school and that I played video games on something called an Atari, but he wants to know what I did that he can't do now. What is different.

It is a reasonable question, a good question. The sounds of my childhood are never far away. They reside in many places in the memories of friends and family and online in places like YouTube. It is an amazing resource, this repository of memory we call YouTube. I point and click my way through it and get lost in old commercials and television clips.

The Six Million Dollar Man
The Phantom Tollbooth
Rikki Tikki Tavi 
The Ginsu Knife
Don't Take The Car You'll Kill Yourself

I show him some of the clips and talk about people and places that once were. It occurs to me that in some ways it is harder for my children to relate to the childhood had than for me to relate to my parents. The dark haired beauty thinks I am kidding when I say that I didn't have a cellphone or a computer. Her brother knows that I am not, but doesn't understand the kind of freedom that my bicycle gave me.

He doesn't know that an early Friday evening such as this is probably one that would have gotten me in trouble. I would have finished my homework and gone riding with my friends. We would have been instructed to get home before or by dark but I would have been late. I always was. We might have ended up at the park and played catch and lost track of time.

Some things haven't changed. I still get lost in what I am doing and end up being late, but now I don't get grounded for it. He looks at me and asks me to tell him more and I talk about Star Wars. That clip I ran a few weeks ago comes to mind. He has seen the movie in the correct order, but still this scene doesn't carry the same power for him as for me.

It feels like a different life to me, this time before children. It is not better or worse, just different. As a kid I looked forward to Saturday morning cartoons, soccer/baseball games in which I was a player and not a spectator. I tell him that his aunts used to complain about coming to my games and that grandpa was much tougher on me than on him.

He laughs at the thought of grandpa yelling. It is a foreign concept to him but not to me. He doesn't understand how mellow my father has become. The affable grandfather used to have a real bark that upon very rare occasions was matched with a bite. I suppose that is a family tradition because my father said the same about his father.

I wonder if one day my son will say that about me.

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