The more common variant of the saying being like pigs in clover — but let’s not go that far.
But if I had some magic elixir bottled up that could whisk me back to childhood, it would consist of a distillation, an inhalation of the following:
…The scent of the pinpoint-sized white flowers of a privet hedge left to run wild and leggy in mid-June, and the dappled green shade discovered when one crawls behind its interwoven branches…
…The grit-and-spoilage taste of ripe figs, and the way they weep milky tears onto your hands as you pluck them…
…clover, its scent pedestrian, not quite floral; the way it quilt-tops the front yards most of our neighbors wish were lawns instead, a bed calling for a child-sized body to flop down atop it…
So if my childhood (version, happy; there being others as well) were boiled down to its essence, the lovely claret-colored jam that resulted would consist, in part, of the above. As well as southern summer heat, and time spent outdoors doing what I mostly labelled nothing, alone much of the time, even though I had a sibling.
That — what else can I call it but communion? — with nature, even though the nature itself was not all that natural (vacant lots figuring largely in it), was certainly not wild; that freedom — these are things I want my girls to experience.
Oh, I know it may happen in Girl Scouts, when we drive to the mountains, when we make an effort, but mainly, I know, it’s beyond my orchestration, takes place despite me, in the backyard, in the cracks of our life, unplanned.
It has been lamented better and more thoroughly elsewhere, but this fact remains — I live in a neighborhood rife with kids (granted, most of them still infants, given the gentrifying nature of this particular ‘hood) and I have yet to see them engaging in the activity that gave us all such joy when we were in elementary school: walking the neighborhood sidewalks from one house to another, unparented for an hour or two at least. Free to stop and sit the curb and look up at the sky; to look down between our sneakers and track ants traversing dirt clods grown mountain-sized.
Last Friday night the Husband and I lived dangerously, as dangerously as two middle-aged, gray-haired sleep-deprived sorts can, and cast caution to the wind: the two of us slept, soundly, deeply, well, with our bedroom window open wide. To do so was a decision the public safety-minded types among our neighbors — and there are many because when a gentrifying neighborhood such as ours gentrifies enough that it takes two incomes to afford a house, those houses become sitting ducks full of ipods and flat screens and empty of people — would consider folly when feeling generous, and suicide when feeling grim.
Our window open wide. To the sound of motorcycles being raced somewhere not too far away, around 1 a.m. To birdsong, a swelling chorus that, cliche´d as it is, can’t be better described.
Most of the windows in most of the houses in this neighborhood are painted shut. Lack screens. Saturday morning, I lay in bed listening to the birds and watching the dawn come and was struck — not for the first time of course, this isn’t a profundity I’ve come up with here — by how sealed away from life we’ve — all of us — become.
On Saturday afternoon, I let Elder Girleen walk unattended to a friend’s house a block away. The other mom and I co-ordinated; I talked cars and their blindspots with Elder Girleen before I sent her out of my sight.
Out of my sight, which after all is where so much of what my child needs to learn will occur.
The other mother called me when she started back home; I walked outside and one house down the sidewalk to watch for her to dance around the corner and head down the sidewalk toward me. Sat down on the curb to wait, in the clover the neighbor had an hour or so before tried to mow down.
The luck I found was frayed, pressed practically flat by the mower’s roller. But oh my, it had four lovely green leaves all the same.