Betty Duffy

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Side of the Road

I took my older boys on my walk tonight as part of my new summer paradigm: “Love my kids, enjoy being a family, and get stuff done.” This was an uncharacteristic answer on my part to my husband’s question, “What do you want to do?” as my short term goals often involve avoiding my kids and lying around. Anyway, I said it, and it sounded so simple, so ideal and so attainable, I started to enact it on nights like tonight, for example, when I’d typically walk the dog by myself because I just need to get out of the house and away from everything.

I didn’t realize how much pleasure I was robbing myself of by always moving away from my kids for my down time. These boys are hilarious when you get them away from their little brothers and sister—maybe they need a little down time too—and they don’t need me to talk to them all the time. They have their own mystifying little culture between them.

We took the route to the brick house four doors down from us and approximately two miles away. The road goes over the interstate then snakes around over the river and between the cornfields that rise up on either side of the road in kind of sinister fashion this time of year. It’s been hot lately, so we’ve been walking around with sticky skin, frizzy hair, and red faces since about ten o’clock this morning, and the heat makes everything smell so much stronger: the musky corn, last night’s skunk, the dead creatures on the pavement.

The boys, after standing on the interstate overpass trying to get the truckers to honk at them (many obliged), walked on inspecting all the litter on the side of the road. Country roads seem to collect more litter than other roads, or at least, they are not often cleaned up, and this particular road is one of the worst. In the Springtime, when the snow melts and before the tawny orange lilies sprout along the riverbanks, you can see where people dump all their junk: couches, tires, TVs, coolers, yew clippings, air conditioners, bottles and the occasional porno mag.

I didn’t think about all this clutter with my kids on the walk because in the summer the roadsides are overgrown with Mulberry and Queen Anne’s Lace, but the boys observed EVERYTHING. Fortunately, we didn’t cross any dirty magazines, but they got a huge kick out of someone’s discarded skivvies, and a bottle of Mad Dog was occasion for an impromptu mad dog song that lasted, really, longer than it needed to.

One of them picked up a tree-shaped air freshener that people hang from their rearview mirrors and said it smelled like the deodorizing pucks found in urinals. And it struck me as odd that these boys are old enough to go into men’s bathrooms by themselves and use urinals—and in fact, they have been doing so for some time.

Who taught them to use urinals? It wasn’t me, I know, so I asked them, in what might be one of my most naïve moments as a mother. “Dad taught us to pee standing up. It’s just like using a regular toilet.” This makes perfect sense if you’re a boy, and have the characteristic apparatus. But if you are a woman, as I happen to be, the urinal concept is about as complicated as using a bidet. Who teaches people to use a bidet—and what must that tutorial be like?

Anyway, all this stuff on the side of the road, and my boys inspecting everything as if they were archeologists trying to unearth clues to a long lost people, made me feel a little sad. What will they learn about mankind from all this junk?

When my husband and I went to Williamsburg, I sat in on an archeology lecture while my husband was in his woodworking conference. Our guide took us back into the archives where the Williamsburg Foundation stores all of the artifacts they unearthed during the excavation of the original town.

By inspecting the trash dumps on a particular plot, the archeologists and historians could discern if the people in that home had been wealthy or poor, cultured or illiterate. If they used imported china, they were probably well off. If they used clay dishes, they might have been slaves, for example.

The archives contained millions of shards of crystal and cutlery, drawer after drawer of clues to the people that lived there. But this road we walked tonight, with its plastic wrappers and brand-name bottles, could have been populated and defaced by any auto-bot in the galaxy.

Hmm… This people appears to engage in some sort of sexual reproduction (What could this Durex wrapper connote?), and hence, should enjoy increased genetic diversity among its offspring, and yet, why does every specimen appear to drink Big Gulps and eat McDonalds?

There are so many, many reasons to swim against the current of this culture.


Karly said...

I read this just after deciding to post something similar (though not so eloquent or well developed) on facebook about a lovely walk I took with Mira last night to a Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins for icecream. I was feeling depressed and lazy at the time, but just being with her-- actually listening to her for an hour or more, and holding that tiny hand I know she won't want me to hold for too many more years-- cheered me up and made me feel like the more proactive parent I want to be.

Thanks for this post, and the new summer motto, which I might try to adopt.

mrsdarwin said...

I remember coming home from college on my first break freshman year and taking my youngest brother, then four, for a walk, just me and him. He talked to me the whole time, and I was amazed at how much he'd grown since I'd been gone and by how much was rattling around in his small head.

One of things Darwin and I have resolved to do is spend more individual time with each of our children. Last night the big girls were out and we got to spend some time just with Jack (and baby, but she didn't interfere much). He babbled, he cuddled, he spent some daddy-boy time, and for several hours he got to be the most important person in Mommy and Daddy's life. Each of our kids need that -- they reveal different facets of their personalities when they're alone.

And boy, it seems relaxing to just have one or two kids around, as opposed to the jumble of all of them. It makes me wonder what I felt so busy about when I really did only have two.

BettyDuffy said...

Mrs. D, two of my kids spent the night with my inlaws last night, and I can't tell you how quiet and weird it is around here--but also good. They are different one on one, which shouldn't surprise me, because I remember having that same complaint about people in grade school: "I really like her one on one, but she's sort of mean in a group."

Karly, I hope my post didn't prevent you from writing up your reflections. I'm still hoping to one day read more from the Ruminant.

Margie said...

Love the closing sentence of this post, and I couldn't agree more.