This morning I found myself thinking about my grandson’s first Independence Day: how he is growing, keen to learn and master the world, but also how he will react to the dazzle and display of fireworks. Thrilled, I’m sure, whenever he can stay up late enough to watch. And, I couldn’t help but wonder about an implicit trade-off as children begin to master the world, but perhaps lose some of its magic in the process.
My free association took me to a 1956 nighttime baseball game my uncle promised to take me to — take me to watch the great center fielder Mickey Mantle. I fairly burst with anticipation to monitor Mantle in a contest under the lights, the latter still a novelty for the adults and a first-time experience for me. I continue to enjoy baseball and have traveled to nearly 20 cities for games in ballparks old and new. But I’m not anymore the nine-year-old boy blown away by the idea — the impatient, invisible, excited expectation of attendance — or the youngster of a similar age on another occasion who was stunned by the color green and the expansive daytime beauty of Wrigley Field as I walked up to the concourse from the shadowy underworld of the old stadium, feeling as if I were in a better place — as if the gates of heaven opened for me.
We become more experienced, more confident, and wiser while losing a bit of the thrill of accomplishment. You notice the growing security in any small child and the tenacity and curiosity driving it, but he can’t yet imagine his adult self who will be more used to things, less overwhelmed; a person who, having “seen it all,” won’t get as excited, stimulated, and intoxicated. Perhaps, in part, that’s why we drink or drug to mimic the feelings of a world from which the cellophane wrapper has just been removed.
The little one is so desperate to get away. Yes, he checks over his shoulder to assure himself that the parent has his back, but eventually no longer checking and no longer wanting to be checked, supervised, reigned in. Freedom and competence and recklessness rule. Later come maturity and jadedness, too. We are like toothpaste out of the tube, pristine for a moment, then losing something hard to define. The rewards of the life of one who has broken free are different, more dependable and therefore more essential, but less remarkable and joyous. The colors are duller.
Perhaps, as adults, some of us go places not seen and seek the thrill of a fresh relationship with a younger body to recapture the old intensity: an unconscious effort to touch an uninnocent-innocent in the hope her relative newness will rub off.
Our mature challenge is to make the day new, a bigger effort than for the 10-month-old for whom it simply is new.
But, little boy, I’m sure you wouldn’t be happy as a forever dependent oldster, even for all the moments of untarnished delight joined to your present dependency. Yours is the wonder of a life of constant enlightenment and unfolding, but there is no profit in perpetual incapacity, of reliance on your parents. You must know this deep down because you work so hard to escape it and enter an existence full of mastery achieved at the expense of routine.
One of the happiest memories of my life took place after being taken to a drive-in movie by my parents. It was not only the first film I’d ever seen and the first outdoor movie I’d ever attended, but 3-D to boot! You had to wear special glasses to get the effect, of course. (The trailer above displays an over-the-top promotion of said entertainment: The House of Wax).
I possess little memory of the video. What I do recall is the ride home in the family Chevrolet. The horizontal, seven-year-old version of myself drifted into that Neverland between waking and sleep on the pre-seat-belted bench behind my parents. I was as content as I have ever been, fully confident of having mom and dad to myself (since my two little brothers were back home with a sitter) in the days when I still thought of my elders as Zeus and Hera, god and goddess of the universe. I was sure of being taken care of: safe, serene, and inexpressibly happy, as though a fairy god-mother had touched me with her wand.
I have no advice for the little guy who will visit our home today: it would make no impact on his not-yet-perfected word processor-mind. But if my experience would make a difference, I’d say this:
Don’t grow up too fast, tiny man. Your parents will never again be so young, handsome, and wonderful. You will never be loved with more self-sacrificing intensity. The sparklers on this still dependent Independence Day will never so astonish you.
Seize the day, now and forever.
That’s a beautiful meditation, Gerry. It reminds me of the song: “Forever Young.”
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Thanks, Joan. I’d never heard the song, but just checked it out. No new ideas in the world, as we know, but (in keeping with the post) when you are new so is everything else.
Thanks for a great article on this special weekend. As a grandparent of 10 month old twins it really caught my attention. I especially enjoyed the “don’t grow up too fast…” We live in such a fast paced, instant gratification world that the pressure is there to move quickly into the next phase of life. Things change when you are a grandparent and can see the folly of pushing ahead without enjoying and savoring the innocence of certain times. Now you can write an article about why parents want to push their children into new experience that they don’t need. Thanks for an excellent piece.
Thank you, Sheila. I don’t know if I’m prepared to take on the topic you suggest, but a couple of thoughts occur to me. Parents, of course, want the best for their kids and, in this country at least, the best usually means “getting ahead.” Then there is the desire to help a child avoid repeating a parent’s mistakes. Social pressure and comparisons play a role, too. Have a great holiday!
“Our mature challenge is to make the day new, a bigger effort than for the 10-month-old for whom it simply is new.”
True, and yet with a new grandbaby in the picture, you don’t need to really work at “making” the day new, because by being around him and watching him experiencing all the firsts in his life, it is also a first in your life, which “simply is” new for you as well. No work involved!
Good point, Brewdun. It hadn’t occurred to me. Thanks!
“Don’t grow up too fast, tiny man…”
~ Great advice, Dr. Stein.
Happy Independence Day to you and your family!
Same to you, Rosaliene — someone who knows about independence more than most of the rest of us. You are a peach!
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Thanks for the compliment, Dr. Stein 🙂
This is beautiful, thank you…..and I think it also makes me feel sad… because I don’t remember ever thinking my parents were perfect (it may be a lie, but it would have been nice to have a memory of believing it, for a while); and also the thought of ‘being loved most or best’ actually being behind me (and not remembering it) rather than still a possibility (even though my core does not believe it is a possibility), it also sad…..sorry, I don’t want to drag you or others down, after what was a beautiful and emotional and lovely post! I don’t want to be known as the one who always sees the rain not the sunshine…..!
Don’t worry about what others think. The absence of any moment of thinking your parents were terrific and believed they believed the same about you is potential grist for the therapeutic mill.
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