I tell my kids I’m old all the time. It comes in handy when I want to fain forgetfulness about what’s for dinner (because they probably won’t like my answer), where we’re going (because I like to surprise them) or if I generally just don’t want to discuss something with them (they always know I’m playing them, though).
But, when my youngest asked me the other day if I was able to watch The Wizard of Oz in color as a kid, I about died. She really believed I was actually old. Or she has no concept of technicolor history.
And then, as I finished dying her hair with cherry Kool-Aid (see? I’m not THAT old if I’m doing that) she asked what I did (with my life) as an only child growing up. And then I threw forgetfulness out the window.
“I explored,” I told her. “Outside.”
Growing up in Michigan, there is a certain chunk of childhood that is spent indoors due to weather – read: a thunderstorm every Fourth of July, the windy and rainy and freezing Halloweens, and the below-freezing stretches that cancelled school. And because I couldn’t watch the NBA on TV outside, I was relegated to watching the games indoors. I was more than a little obsessed with the Bad Boys and the Bulls and, for some odd reason, the Knicks – a habit I have outgrown.
But, other than that, I was outside. A lot.
After fogging the driveway so it was clear of biting horseflies, I’d practice dribbling or free throws, because I wasn’t good and needed all the work I could get. I’d set up a pretend gas station in the driveway, and park my bike near the “pump,” which was actually a tree with a perfectly-placed Y in the trunk. I’d wander down into our backyard ravine, with a guide stick in hand, pretending I was an adventurer exploring the deep woods, or the frigid arctic, or a swampy rainforest – depending on the season and the gear I was required to wear.
And when I reached the bottom of the ravine, I’d go, following the little creek that ran inside it. Cross over downed trees, pretend I saw dangerous animals, and warn the group of ghost adventurers that I was leading about how dangerous the area was or what kinds of plants were down there – making up new species as I encountered new vegetation. I’d tell my invisible crew to watch out for thorns, to steer clear of poison oak (even though I don’t even know if there was any down there) and to beware of the horseflies out front, which seemed to be the size of hummingbirds when I was a kid.
I’d explore muddy tracks and leave some of my own. And I’d ignore the house on the other side of that ravine, so it didn’t spoil my backcountry adventure.
As I got older, but before having kids, I kept exploring. I hiked up mountains, and took the side trail to see where it would lead. Often. I even trained for and participated in a three-day walk for cancer, bunking in a tent with a total stranger – just for the adventure of the whole thing.
I let go of a lot of adventuring for a long time, but rediscovered it over the past few years. And for a brief moment I thought I was only first discovering it. But remembering what I did as an “only child” only solidifies that who I am is who I’ve always wanted to be.
I lived in a city, but went to preschool on a farm. And even though I’m “old,” I somehow have that experience filed among my warmest memories. I was meant to try things. And explore. And be outside. And do things differently.
And I’m so glad I’m not too old to remember that – or too young to not realize that.