Water Your Children

When I was a kid, trouble had no trouble finding me.

Trouble” might be too strong. Call it mischief. Or devilry.

I never thought I was doing anything wrong-wrong. I was just doin’ different stuff.  So  … so I got into different trouble.

You gettin’ this?

“There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” ~Graham Greene~

I’d follow my imagination and sometimes wind up in lukewarm trouble. But I never paid a hard price for my brand of mischief. 

My father called it “good trouble”, but my mother would say …

“What’s wrong with that kid, anyway?”

Like my short-lived taxidermy business.

I poured an entire bottle of Elmer’s Glue down the throat of a striped bass … and put it on the mantle to “cure”.  That wasn’t a good idea. Not in August. Took days to run the smell out of the house. I shut down the business.

Or the time I decided to train my 13 year-old Cocker Spaniel to be a jumping champion.  She could barely climb the stairs, but I was determined. The dog was not.

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My mother came to the hound’s rescue when she saw the backyard obstacle course.

“This is not a good profession for you. Or the dog.

Find something else.”

So that summer I went into seafaring.

Convinced my father I had salt-water for blood.  He bought me a crappy plywood pram for about five dollars. A mini-dinghy. About the size of a bathtub.

“Too often we give children answers to remember rather than the problems to solve.” ~Roger Lewin~

He supervised from a chaise lounge. I scraped and sanded … and primed and painted. Launched it with a fizzy bottle of A&W root beer that made all the seats extra-sticky.  But it didn’t stop my “schooner” from sinking over-night.

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Eventually the wood swelled … and it floated. And I took to the high seas of a small lake … in a captain’s hat just like the guy from “Jaws”. But I didn’t get chewed up by a shark … because a short time later, I decided to get married.

To Mrs. Rosenkrantz … Judith … who was only 30 years older than me. I was eleven, but mature for my months.  

We could fall in love because her snotty husband had dropped dead in the early summer … from an attack of meanness. Judith was anything but mean.

A few summers before, I was out hunting for meat with my unreliable BB gun.  Mr. Rosenkrantz made fun of my coonskin cap … and my weapon. Like Daniel Boone … I’d never forgotten that slight. So I took his woman.

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I wrote Judith anonymous poems in my best Catholic school penmanship … to convince her that I was a gentile worth marrying … because we had lots in common. We spoke the same language and breathed the same air.  It was destiny.

Until I had to go to seventh grade. What bad luck.

Then there was the igloo skyscraper that nearly suffocated George Eliot. And the archaeological dig in the woods … for mummies accidentally buried in Connecticut by dyslexic Egyptians.

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My “dig” was littered with several kitchen colanders I’d “borrowed” from home. My suffering mother had to drain her spaghetti with a fishing net … left over from my whaling days on the lake.

One April,  I was summoned to appear in real family court … to explain the race car I’d built with wheels taken from my sister’s baby carriage. I took my oath on a comic book … because it was the only thing handy.

I argued before my amused father that I’d taken the wheels because my sister was eight months old … and it was time for her to get up on her feet like the rest of us. I lost that case … and decided the law wasn’t for me

So I took up whittling.

Carved the best Roman sword ever… for a fifth grade history project.

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Made of balsa wood.  Spray painted in black and gold. Decorated with pearls and garnets and black onyx … and other stones I pried out of old earrings and bracelets my mother never wore. At least not around me.

Sister Jean Matthew nearly had a stroke when she saw my garish sword. So did my mother … who met me in the principal’s office … and tried her best not to put a crease in my head for what I’d done to her jewelry.

I was never really punished for any of these small missteps. But I was firmly warned about explosives. Never to get fascinated with bombs or cannons. My father made me sign a contract. My mother rolled her eyes. She did that a lot around me.

There were lots of other escapades.

“Creativity flows when curiosity is stoked.” ~Neil Blumenthal~

An interest in safaris got me a trip to the Bronx Zoo. A mention of the Roman Coliseum led to a guided tour of the old Yankee Stadium with my dad.

My curiosity about Lady Liberty found me at the feet of the Statue of Liberty.

All lessons I’ve never forgotten.

My parents indulged … and induced …  my curiosities. My fantasies were never blistered. My own exploits were part of their adult conversations that I was sure to overhear. That was part of their encouragement. They knew what they were doing.  For me.

“When I grow up I want to be a little boy.” ~Joseph Heller~

I haven’t really changed all that much.

Now I’m a goofy grandfather … with a supply of bows and arrows and super-soaker water guns. I orchestrate parachute drops from the second floor. And I try to grow maize in the backyard just like the Pilgrims … because it would make a kid’s Thanksgiving so real.

But I like being me … because I can be anyone I wanna be. I just close my eyes … and dream away.

Give your kids the same passport.

Denis Ian

 

 

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