Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Childhood Summers in the City
Whenever I come up to a curb and see the river gurgling beyond my toes, I remember holding onto my dad's hand while my sister held onto his other, two little girls inching their jelly sandals close to the edge of the water before starting the countdown.
In we'd splash, shocked at how cold and good the water felt on our feet as if we hadn't done the very same two blocks before. For kids who never got to swim in a pool (we didn't even know how to) or lived near a playground with a sprinkler, this was a good as it got and we loved it. I couldn't imagine a childhood summer existing without our street river ritual.
Living in a walk-up apartment in the summer had its drawbacks. Going outside unsupervised wasn't an option because, you know, "drug dealers" and there weren't too many places to play anyway. We had no lawn to run through and the park was more of a concrete trap where the steel slide would lick at your thighs on hot summer days. There were no rubber foam landings or plastic play sets; you simply learned fast and accepted that bruises were just a part of it all.
But as kids you make the best of your circumstances because in truth you don't know that anything else could exist and imagination has no care for boundaries. A plastic bag tied to a long red yarn became a kite flown from our fifth floor kitchen window. Water balloons were filled in the bathroom sink and then dropped untied into the bathtub like a ticking time bomb before racing to the front door and back. I couldn't even tell you why we found that so amusing, but we did. The best were afternoons where Mom would turn on the shower (we were a family of bathers) to "cool down the house." It was the 80s and we had no concern for the environment. We'd plug up the tub and lean over the edge to catch the falling water with our hands, cupping them tightly to keep the droplets from slipping through our fingers and into the pool below. Overturned plastic Push Pop bottoms became little boats in our make believe sea.
I think about these things when the topic of where to raise my future children comes up. When I think on my own gritty childhood, I smile and then immediately wonder if I was deprived of some other way your youth is supposed to be lived with bike races down hills and laying on your back in the park pointing at shapes in the clouds. That would've been nice, I say, to grow up with my toes in the grass, but I treasure my moments just the same and made the most I could with the world I was given. And I know my kids will do the same whenever they arrive and wherever they call home.