Last week we were given the task of caring for someone's animals and garden while they were on vacation. We had to drive out to the country, and due to our schedules we did so in the middle of the night. It struck me that it has been quite awhile since I've really seen the night sky. I don't live in a huge city, but it's big enough to deflect the light of the stars. It was really nice out there. In return for our duties, we got to pick whatever was ripe.
I got to thinking about a night many years ago when the stars were exceptionally beautiful. I was fourteen and used to catch rides up into the Northern California hills to visit a family with a bunch of kids, ranging from babies to teens. It was a pretty remote area—they were homeschooled by their hippie momma, had no electricity, used outdoor plumbing, and lived off a huge garden. While all the teenagers piled into a room to listen to music on a battery powered boombox, I often chose to hang out with the little ones, running around the garden.
Late one night after the adults had gone to bed, I was hanging out with the kids my age and the little ones showed up at the door, beckoning me. When I got out into the hall they put their fingers to their lips, shushing me, and led me outside. They had blankets, flashlights, and bags of snacks smuggled from the kitchen. We walked down the dirt road, the older ones holding the tiny hands of the smallest ones. A light was flashing in a large, open field and we followed it. I was worried at that point, wondering what was going on, worrying about the kids and if I'd be in trouble with the momma for taking part.
The light in the field turned out to be the kids that lived down the road. When we met up with them, all the kids spread out their blankets and threw their snacks in the middle, creating a communal pile. We stayed out there for hours, looking up at the stars and talking. I was amazed at how smart they all were, talking about the origins of stars and the speed of light. I mostly stayed quiet, just listening and letting them use my belly and legs for pillows. I felt honored to be their special guest. I had way more fun hanging out with them than I would have had smoking a joint and making out in the teenager's room.
That night has stuck with me. It reminds me of the rad stuff about being a kid, and what a good feeling it is to be trusted by them. Those kids inspire me every time I think about them, even though I know they are all technically grown ups now. Remembering that night feels like a little kick in the seat of my pants. In raising my son, I've tried to keep those kids in mind--the freedom and safety that they had, the potential for intelligence and kindness that children possess. They revealed so much to me about childhood at a time when I had nearly forgotten it.
Besides reminding me about qualities I'd like to have as a parent so that my son can enjoy the finer points of childhood, those kids taught me the importance of having a secret spot to meet up with your friends in the middle of the night. When you get to be a grown up, you have a pass to stay up all night and go just about anywhere you please. It is easy to forget the thrill of sneaking out just to be with your friends to share some snacks and just talk. So I've got a few secret spots for that very purpose. If you don't have one, you need to find one. Abandoned building and cemeteries are good places.
Another eye opening experience for me has been teaching a craft class at the local Boys and Girls Club. I just have one kid, so I tend to only think about what is going on with him and the problems he is facing. Working with kids living in poverty is an eye opener in itself, but getting to know the children in my class presented me with a lot of other things to think about. One little boy was placed in a school for mentally ill children as a result of getting in fights at regular school all the time because the kids constantly berated him for being gay. There was a girl there with strange lesions all over her body. Her doctor shrugged and said, "I don't know." One of my students disappeared in the middle of the night after going to meet up with her considerably older boyfriend. I really don't know what to do about any of this, but I know that I want to keep volunteering my time to children. I want them to at least have one person they can talk to, and I like teaching crafts. Creation instead of destruction. Maybe I’m not really doing anything important by teaching crafts, but I have a feeling that if I just stick around, something will be revealed to me; I’ll be presented with an opportunity to help a kid in a substantial way, and I want to be there for that.
I’m stuck on the idea that if things get better for kids, the whole world will be a better place. Even if that is not true or it never comes to pass, kids seem to keep me sane and make me a better person. It is all about hope. My world view is not much different than when I was ten, I guess. Grown ups tend to be the bad guys and I don’t want to be on their team.
I’m taking donations for my craft class, so if you can help out, please get in touch with me. My classes are free of charge and I provide all of the materials. Don’t forget what I said about finding a secret spot. Have a late night rendezvous. Other ways you can fight the bad guys include water balloon fights, eating stolen cookies (they taste better after midnight), and taking up for the scrawny kid with the funny clothes. Living and learning all the time... Candyce