The tug of childhood
I recently took some young friends to Maine for the weekend, a 12-year-old boy and his 17-year-old sister.
The weather was acceptable — overcast, but warm enough for outdoor activity — and so we headed to the beach, where we were delighted to discover that the water was fairly warm, too, and that the waves were decent — good for boogie boarding and body surfing, which is what I do.
The kids dashed into the water, armed with boogie boards borrowed from my parents’ garage. Their mother and I followed. We weren’t moving quite as quickly, but we were still eager to get in there. In Maine, you seldom get good waves, warmish water and nice weather all at the same time, and we wanted to take advantage of the optimal conditions.
Waves of enjoyment
Body surfing is one of my favorite things to do, which I’ve probably mentioned before. It fills me with a certain childlike glee. Which might explain why I enjoyed watching my young friends boogie board so much. They rode the waves with broad smiles, leaping to their feet when they hit sand, and running back into the water for more. Unlike me, they weren’t behaving vaguely like children — they were children, experiencing the world as children do.
And they seemed to have no interest in what their mother and I were doing. In a way, this puzzled me. Their mother and I were having a great time — weren’t they curious about what we were doing? Didn’t they want to try it? I made the switch from boogie boarding to body surfing when I was about 7 years old. Wasn’t it time for these kids to try body surfing?
Then I remembered the circumstances under which I started body surfing.
My parents and I went for a walk down the beach, and when we got to a sandy area with nice waves, my father announced that he was going body surfing. I was outraged. Why hadn’t my father told me that surfing was a possibility? “I didn’t bring my boogie board!” I yelled. I stomped around and cried for a bit, but the ocean was enticing, and eventually I headed into the water.
My lack of a board forced me to try body surfing, which I absolutely loved. I loved it so much that I stopped using the boogie board altogether, putting it away like a much-loved toy that I’d finally outgrown. Once I became a body surfer, I felt more adult when I went to the beach, joining my father and the grown-ups in the deeper water, and leaving the children and their boogie boards behind.
Symbols of childhood
The process of putting aside childish toys is an interesting one.
For years, I palled around with a stuffed bear named Ted — a friendship I was reminded of last week when I saw the film “Ted,” about a grown man who remains best friends with the stuffed bear that magically came to life when he was a child. This is an intriguing premise, because it suggests that you can hold onto childhood — and your childish pursuits and playthings — while also becoming a full-fledged adult.
Real life is generally a little more complicated, however.
As much as I loved Ted, he had ceased to be a part of my life by middle school. I had moved on to other things — playing badminton in the yard with my friends, Nintendo, riding my bike, exploring the woods. Even so, I was more than a little bit shocked when I discovered, during my freshman or sophomore year of high school, that my parents had thrown Ted away because of a mildew problem.
It wasn’t so much that I missed Ted’s presence as that I missed what he symbolized: childhood. I might have been a teenager, but I wasn’t immune to the charms of nostalgia.
Of course, certain forms of nostalgia make me shake my head with bewilderment.
For instance, the other day I noticed a billboard for an adult kickball league.
“Kickball?” I thought. “That game I used to play at recess?”
I’m generally in favor of games, but you have to draw the line somewhere. I might enjoy the occasional game of trivia or darts, but adult kickball seems forced — an attempt to reclaim the innocence and fun of childhood that requires just a little too much effort. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I liked kickball more, or if I saw a billboard for a capture the flag league. Capture the flag — now that’s a game!
Not going back
There’s a Bible verse that suggests that childhood is something we leave behind when we become more complete and compassionate human beings. Taken from the book of Corinthians, it reads, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”
A beautiful quote, but I’m not sure it’s completely true.
As a child, one of my favorite things to do was write, and I still feel that way today. One of my friends in college spent a huge amount of time reading comic books, and eventually landed a job at DC Comics, where he worked on the Batman books. Friends who enjoyed playing with computers have gone on to become programmers, while friends with interests in science and history have gone on to work in those fields. The friends who seem happiest are doing things that, in a way, they’ve always loved.
Unlike the rest of us, my mother uses a boogie board. And she’s enthusiastic about it. I don’t get the sense that she feels she’s missing out on anything. Boogie boarding has also become more popular.
My dad and I are often the only body surfers out there, which probably makes us seem a little old-fashioned. But I don’t care. I gave up my boogie board long ago, and I see no reason to pick it back up again.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.