Monday, January 19, 2009
The Solitude of a Blanket Fort
There are some activities which everyone has in common.
Your average Joe has blown out a candle on a birthday cake in his life, and eaten an ice cream cone. He's had a hamburger, been rocked to sleep by his mother, ridden a roller coaster, done a load of laundry, and gone camping. He's had a water fight, ridden a bicycle, lost a loved one, waved a sparkler around on the fourth of July, been on an awkward date, built a snowman, jumped on a trampoline, burnt a bag of popcorn, done donuts in an icy parking lot, had his heart broken, carried a sack lunch to school, learned the macarena, run through the sprinklers, built a fort out of blankets, seen the Little Mermaid, gotten pruny in the bathtub, etc.
While these are defined as the things everyone's done, nobody's done all of them. Most people have done most of them, while some have done none. There are people whose families don't do fireworks on hot nights with their toes sticky in the asphalt, people who don't take leisurely, lukewarm baths when they're kids. I'm sure there are some strange people out there to whom it has never occurred to use the sprinklers for running through, and there are human beings born and raised to be herbivores by good herbivore parents who'll never touch a hamburger in their life.
Everybody's missing something common that they see everyone else doing, and they have a good wonder at what the piece of the puzzle they're missing out on is like.
One of these things happened upon me today, something that's as old as time but had never happened to me before. I wasn't counting on it ever happening. This happening hurts people's feelings, unless they're the one doing it, and I'm not too keen on getting my feelings hurt. But, it was long overdue-- probably should have started happening moderately often something like seven or eight years ago. This event which has puzzlingly avoided me for almost half my short life happened to me today. Keep it in mind.
When you learn to ride a bike, you learn what it's like to ride it on sidewalks, on the street, with training wheels, without, what it feels like to fall; you feel firsthand how stupid you look in your bubble helmet, what it's like to hit your brakes too hard and flip over the front tire, your elation at riding with no hands, or down a steep hill on a warm day, how to jump the frame up onto a curb to get back onto the sidewalk, which gears to use at which times, things like that. Nobody can emote onto another person what it feels like to ride a bicycle down a hill, as fast as you can, or what the sting of your knees feels like the day after you fall from it.
When you build a fort out of blankets, you take from it the significant experience of clambering inside with a flashlight, a handful of pretzels, and a tattered and battered old Bernstein Bears book--feeling, as a seven-year-old, that you've left your parents and moved out on your own for an independent hour or so. The solitude, maturity, and secretiveness one can experience inside a blanket fort is not something you can describe accurately enough to others to make them feel as though they've experienced it.
Even if these experiences do not seem to be particular building blocks of character, or specifically important, I believe that the lessons and useless information they teach you are. What are you, if not someone who's learned to go slowly on their training wheels around a sharp corner? What are you, if you've learned to stay in the bath long enough to get your playtime in, and to get clean, but not long enough to let it make you sleepy, or the water get cold? What are you, if you've never learned to hold your sparkler further away after dropping a hot piece of it on one of your toes?
What I guess I'm trying to say is, something particularly unpleasant happened today. Something that I don't think anyone has ever enjoyed, unless they caused it to happen themselves altruistically. But I'm happy that I'm sad. I'm elated at the experience, because it happened, and now I've gotten momentarily hot-faced and weepy just like everyone else has when it's happened to them. I've thought I was going to fly into a thousand pieces for about thirty seconds, and laughed at my dramatic antics after the thirty seconds was over. I've walked in my front door, closed it, and leaned against the back of it, pressing my head into its coolness while taking a calming breath as the experience itself nestled comfortably into my brain and reached its feelers out to different places. I've gotten a sudden, tickly chest pain at remembering something touching that happened in the last few now-unclaimable days. I have reconsidered my life, my beliefs, my most intrinsic values, and have decided, for now, to keep the ones I've got. With a little seasoning added, that is.
Today, I have gotten one step closer to removing the training wheels from my bike. I have opened up my windows to more quickly dissipate the smell of burnt popcorn after ripping the bag, tasting some, and deciding to place the rest under the sink in the trash can. I have dropped a spark on my toe and retreated to the sidewalk and the safety of lawn chairs and quilts and popsicles, hoping that next time I'll remember to hold the sparkler further out. Maybe I'll even try and spell my name with it, next year.
I have taken a fistful of pretzels and am clambering into my blanket fort.
at 9:43 PM