Archive for September, 2012

Living on schedule

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

When he arrived on the beach, Evan believed he might have left home forever. He was afraid to acknowledge enjoying anything, because his parents might think he didn’t want to go back. He was quick to point out, whatever pleasure someone might express, it had its equal or better counterpart up North. Even as the months wore on and his fears subsided, then later when he really became comfortable, he never gave up ending every appreciation with, ‘it’s just as fun back home, too.’

I brought my children away because I wanted them to have nothing to do. The life of a working class child in the US is one of relentless activity. From morning until night, day after day, a series of assignments and appointments occupies seemingly every moment. I wanted my kids to wake up day after day, interminably, to nothing but free time. I wanted them to know what could be found there.

Noah found guanabanas and armadillos and stories written in the sky. Evan found he was unhappy without knowing what he was going to do next. He began scheduling his days beforehand, trying to fill them up in advance. He filled them with reading and writing and trips to the beach. But mostly he filled them with music.

When Evan turned five, I asked if he would like to learn the piano. He replied ‘yes’, and I inducted him into my Ten Year Musical Mastery program. Simply, he was required to practice classical piano six days a week for ten years. He hated it for the first five, then began playing on his own. When he arrived at the hot beach, he was a competent intermediate pianist. He would announce in the morning, “I’ll read my book for an hour. Then I’ll do my math. After lunch I’ll go to the beach. Then I can play for three hours until dinner.” And that is what he would do.

The hot beach

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

On Noah’s eighth birthday, his family flew south to a hot beach. We lived for nine months in an orange stucco house with a tiny blue swimming pool, between the ocean and a seasonal rain forest. A troupe of monkeys lived in the overhead canopy. There were colored birds and butterflies. There were snakes and scorpions and billions of ants. There were odd creatures in the sea and strange animals on land. Noah loved all of it.

We taught Noah how to type and he began typing stories about the animals in the forest. I hadn’t anticipated this. My boy wrote comfortable, interesting prose with no more than a few years’ reading history and some typing lessons. I can strain all day and never write a word. Noah ran happily to his keyboard and typed for hours.

Evan sneered at Noah’s enthusiasm for the wild stuff. He might say, ‘whoa!’ or ‘that’s cool!’ if a tuna finned through a wave in front of his face, but he called Noah’s fascination with insects ‘boring’. Evan missed his friends. He was ‘home schooling’ and he had little to do. He worked through the math book he’d brought from the States. He penciled some weekly paragraphs about his experiences at the hot beach. He spent hours each day playing his electronic piano. It wasn’t enough. He became angry and he stayed angry a long time.

Evan took a couple surfing lessons and got a board. I watched him sitting out in the swell. He would ride to the top of a wave and look down, then slide back and let the wave crash underneath him on its way to shore. Adolescence was working its way into his body and he was alone on a hot beach. Without his pack of boys, goading each other on, he stayed cautious. He liked surfing though, and went out into the breakers every day.

Exemplar

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Noah is smallest. He doesn’t like being smallest. His brother is always bigger and often angry; often angry that no-one ever gets angry at Noah. This isn’t true, but Evan thinks so, and Noah gets pushed around and derided a lot. He wishes he were bigger.

Noah is deliberately different. His brother runs with a pack of boys and does boy-pack things. So Noah doesn’t go on carnival rides. Noah doesn’t ride a bicycle. Noah doesn’t want to go to Disneyland. He isn’t fearful, though.

I once lived on a hot beach with Noah. Every afternoon we walked out into the surf. When the water was to my hip he was over his head, swimming. He stayed swimming as we went out over my head, ducking under waves as large as I am. He rolled and flipped and bounced in the foam, always a bobbing, grinning head in the ocean when I looked around and spotted him.

I have no idea what I’m raising my kids to be, but there are a couple things I want them to do. One is, to learn making music. Evan started with piano, so Noah chose the violin. Contrary to his usual distinction, he dislikes practicing as much as his brother once did. Eventually, Evan changed his mind. I tell Noah he will, too. The distinction reasserts itself, and he twists up his face and hurls himself onto the couch and refuses to work through his lessons.

Noah sings easily and well (probably, dad will make him take lessons someday). He sings sometimes while he plays in the yard. Noah plays with a stick. He plays with a small, straight stick, seven or eight inches long. He has several. Some are his favorites. He selects one and twirls it in front of his face while he wanders around the yard. He is doing this: he is drawing a portion of something in the sky with his stick. Then, he is drawing the rest of it in his imagination and acting out a story about what he has drawn. His imagination is huge. Noah is a giant.

The two

Sunday, September 16th, 2012

My boys are thin and smooth, like I am. They’re still blond, though. Evan is browning fast. They have their parents’ blue eyes. They were more fortunate than I was. When I was a kid I had nothing, and I was afraid my mother would be taken away. These boys are comfortable and safe. They’re only afraid they won’t get the next new thing they want.

Evan is twelve, and acts serious around his parents. He says he’s different with his friends. I don’t know how to find out about it.

Evan got serious because his father rode him pretty hard, and he’s a tough kid. Year after year he charged up against his dad, and year after year his dad kept him strapped in the chute. Gradually they settled into each other. Both were just trying to get things done.

Mostly, Evan does what he wants. What he wants is to be a musician.

Noah is eight. He watched Evan fight his dad and decided to try something else. He wears glasses and his right eye is weak. It ambles when he’s tired. He can turn it on and off at will. His teeth are soft and cavity prone. Evan’s vision is perfect and his teeth are strong. Evan gets a lot of praise and attention, so Noah has learned how to parody being exemplary. He squeals, “I’m the best! I’m so wonderful!” at odd moments.

All the life after

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

Sometimes a big scary thing happens. The boat gets rocked. I was sitting at a table when all my wishes came true. I was old and resigned to my losses. I was made young again. I was wise and despaired of surprises. The earth shook and the laws of the universe unbent. I was hungry and desired everything. I was filled and contented and granted eternal life.

So I lay at the bottom of the boat on the flat sweaty ocean and tried not to move forever, because there was joy in the middle of the sea.

Here I am today. There was all my life before, which was good. And here is all my life after, which is better.