Posts Tagged growing up
There was a wooded lot two houses down from my home in the neighborhood where I grew up. We called it “the woods.” At times, the lot became an enchanted forest. This was especially true when I invited a friend to play in the woods with me. One of my friends shared my enthusiasm for 1950’s horror films. We transformed into monsters and created our own scripts using the enchanted forest as our stage.
One afternoon, I remember playing Frankenstein to my friend’s Wolf Man. The scene remains fixed in my memory in crystal clarity forty years later. When our time together had almost expired, an invisible alarm clock sounded inside me. We had to return to my house. My friend’s mother would be calling any minute to arrange a pickup. I stood at the border of the woods, one foot in the wilds and the other on the neatly mown grass of an adjacent estate home. This is the thought that ran through my head:
Next year we’ll be in seventh grade and we won’t be able to do this anymore.
Another alarm clock had sounded, only the chimes of this one struck an infinitely more somber note. It said the time had arrived to put this chapter of my life behind me. I was not in the least bit happy at the news.
Growing up is often associated with pain, and I am certainly no stranger to this experience. Growing up is scary. We have to separate from the umbilicus of parents, stand on our own two feet, compete for a niche in society, establish loving relationships, become parents, and face death at the end of our journey. I’ve never really wanted to grow up. To this day I am not a big fan of “putting away childish things.” But it seems growing up is something a human being cannot avoid if he or she desires to lead a constructive, creative life.
Here’s a trick I’ve learned that makes the medicine of growing up a lot easier to take—ladle in generous doses of joy every day.
I get stuck creatively and psychologically if I’m not experiencing joy on something that approaches a regular basis.
Obviously, joy is a precious and elusive commodity. It takes effort and a multi-faceted strategy to experience it. Joy is the elixir of life in my universe. It is the oil that allows this machine called me to run smoothly. When I’m feeling joy, I’m more creative. My work reaches a higher level. I am more motivated. I want to expand my heart and mind. I want to do what it takes to reach my goals. I am more equipped to help others. When I’m feeling joy work becomes play. I’m back in the enchanted forest with my sixth grade friend. Resistance evaporates in the presence of joy.
If you’ve followed this blog, you know that I practice meditation and recommend it to my readers to feel peace and joy from within. The meditation I do feeds my heart. Thinking the right thoughts is another essential element in the pursuit of joy. We attract what we think about. Currently, I’m reading “Ask And It Is Given” by Esther and Jerry Hicks. This fascinating book offers a unique strategy for manifesting your heart’s desires.
I wish you joy.
I heard his footsteps enter the kitchen. I sat at the breakfast table, afraid to glimpse the advancing Bengal tiger, my father.
I didn’t have the stomach to gaze into his piercing green eyes. My mind saw those eyes jumping from the bushy, long hair straggling down the back of my neck, to the rumpled, black T-shirt I had pulled on shortly after stumbling out of bed. Those X-Ray lamps of his would finally come to rest on the doodles and paint droppings on the blue jeans I had worn for most of the past year in art school.
The footsteps halted. I imagined the Bengal tiger crouching on all fours, sizing up its prey. Minutes passed. The silence became unbearable. There was nowhere to run. The tiger had me cornered. I turned in my seat, almost like a revolving door. I held my breath as well as the awkward position.
My father leaned on the kitchen counter dressed in a navy, pinstripe suit accented by a red silk tie and powder blue business shirt. His eyes focused not on me, but on his perfectly manicured nails, like a high-priced trial attorney adopting a nonchalant pose before tearing into a hostile witness. He looked up at me suddenly.
His eyes always darted back and forth when he was angry. My father’s gaze was rock steady on this day. I did not perceive him to be calm, however. His slack posture spoke to me of something else, something entirely new, and horribly unexpected. My legs grew numb, perhaps from the ridiculous position I sat frozen in.
“Please say something,” I managed to blurt out.
His face held no expression now, as if a gremlin somewhere inside his body had flipped off an electrical switch.
“When you finish art school,” he said, “my responsibility for you will be finished. You’ll be on your own. If you end up nowheresville, it will be your unhappiness, not mine.”
My father continued to regard me with that terrible, neutral expression. His keen eyes bore into mine. I was certain he could hear my heart beating double-time inside my chest.
“I have to go to work now,” he said, and marched with a purposeful stride out of the room.
I turned and stared vacantly out the kitchen window into the back yard. I saw myself as a teenager, smashing golf wiffle-balls across the lawn for hours with the rusty seven-iron my father had given me from an old set. I blinked. The memory vanished.
It took a full five minutes to convince my legs to lift me up from the table.
In the next few days, I realized my father had done me a favor by bluntly pointing out what the consequences of my actions were apt to be, at least as far as my relationship with him was concerned.
His words shed a cold, clear light on my attempted escape from the pain of growing from a boy into a man. This recollection may have made my father seem cruel, but he was never an unkind man. Perhaps he could have “gilded the lily” more in his advice to me while growing up, but not on this occasion. He did not speak to me with malice or hurtful intent. He spoke honestly and with deep concern, and his words altered my future indelibly for the better.
The name Miss Crisson fit her. Words come to mind, like “crisp,” “sharp,” “cross,” and “criticism.” I remember a six-foot tall, middle-aged woman with regular, Germanic features and wide, hazel eyes peering from behind big-rimmed glasses supported by a clunky plastic frame.
She wore an expression of perennial disappointment punctuated by frequent, angry outbursts. I thought then her mood was the direct result of our consistently delinquent behavior — the student body of Miss Crisson’s fifth grade class. Now I think there may have been other factors involved.
Miss Crisson did not carry her statuesque figure gracefully. Instead, she stood in an ungainly posture in front of the class, arms crossed, daring anyone to misbehave. She never seemed to feel comfortable inside her own skin, or perhaps the small print, cotton dresses she wore like uniforms were all a half size too small.
Looking back, I imagine men might have considered her sexy if she had dressed in a more colorful, modern style. Regular trips to the beauty parlor would have helped too. But she had no use for fashionable clothes or fixing herself up. Her thinning hair drooped in unenthusiastic curls. The humidity in the spring and early summer made the hair from the buns she wore march in a column down her neck like AWOL soldiers.
I recall her first name with great difficulty: It was, or is Doris. Is she still alive as we speak? She took great pains to keep us at a distance, in our place. Miss Crisson the teacher, the person in charge, we the students, there to obey.
It was not so much the things she did that I remember. It was rather the things she didn’t do. She never, for instance, sat on a chair in front of the class with her legs crossed, or in a more casual moment, on the side of her desk. She always stood, implacably, a permanent fixture in front of the class. She sat at her desk only during study periods, often holding her head while reading from her lesson plan or papers that looked to be terribly important. We spent six hours a day, Monday through Friday, with Miss Crisson, surely enough time to get to know someone well, at least enough time for her guard to fall occasionally. Yet, I can’t recall any informal moments with Miss Crisson, never the spontaneous joke or appreciative laugh from the student audience.
She never spoke of children or relatives. I never learned a thing about her personal life after spending a year in her classroom. Did she spend her childhood years in a middle class tract home at the mercy of bible-toting, God-fearing parents? Did her classmates taunt her for being too tall? As a teenager, did she have many boyfriends? Did she ever have a boyfriend? Did she eat dinner at home alone every night in a terry cloth bathrobe and slippers, her hair liberated from the customary bun, hanging in loopy strands? Did she sometimes wake up to an alarm buzzing from the bedroom, slumped on a sofa in front of the television?