The biggest chunk of my heart loves it. My roots run deep underneath the roads and dirt of my hometown and on a quiet night, I can still close my eyes and breathe in and remember growing up in a place that made me believe I truly did have the whole world at my fingertips. I am riddled with nostalgia on any given day. I am guilty of chills down my spine when I pass my old high school and see my sister's car parked in the student parking lot, the slight pang of tears when I think how one day Ethan will be walking those same halls as well. The halls where I fell in love with his father, the pavement where I was standing when I first made eye contact with him; the long, grueling hours my husband now works to give Ethan the opportunity to walk those very halls one day. I love the safety, the security and the fact that I can go for solo jogs at nighttime underneath the dark sky and feel myself unwinding, complacency rampant in my bones. I love our schools. Our neighborhood. Our culture. Our nature. I remember why we struggled at twenty-one years old to buy a home where we did, to build a family where we did. I remember why we sang of opportunities for our children as we painted the walls and ate cereal for dinner. I love it all until I just don't anymore.
I feel sometimes that I am trying to raise a Johnny Appleseed in the land of the infamous Joneses. I am trying to chase a barefoot toddler around Bloomingdales (...figuratively speaking). I am trying to instill in a three year old boy the joy in being free, in being young, in feeling like he is enough for the world in a place where nothing is ever enough, where everything must be nipped, tucked, upgraded, the best.
I am surrounded by declarations of things that are "the best" all day long until my ears ring and ache. These "the bests" all climb upon my shoulders and weigh me down after a while. The best, to me, is Ethan's smile as he sloshes tomato sauce from a bowl with a wooden mixing spoon while he cooks up a tray of spaghetti and meatballs. "The best" is bare feet in damp mud, little fingers shoving themselves hastily into clumps of playdough, shoes stomping in puddles that have formed in the Target parking lot, an inquisitive little mind mesmerized by the handful of plastic bugs he picked out at the dollar store. I want Ethan to enjoy the childhood that he will never get back again because there is no second chance. Childhood is the best. It is the best, and it is fleeting.
I want him to make mistakes. I want him to stumble. To learn. To observe not just what is around him but what is inside of him. I want him to feel fear and nervousness and happiness and curiosity and youth. Sweet, sweet youth. I want him to revel in it, to dance with it, to dream of it, to experience the feeling of infinity and not for a moment feel that he has to apologize for the mistakes he makes along the way. I want him to make those mistakes and I want him to make them constantly and I want him to be free to learn from them without fear of punishment, of shame. I want him to go to sleep with yogurt in his hair and paint on his knees and happiness in his heart because childhood is beautiful and deadlines and desk work contradict all of it. Because childhood is too beautiful to force him to sit at a desk and defy biology and human nature and stare at worksheets until the typeface blurs before his eyes, lulled to sleep by ennui and the promise of the best education the world can offer a three year old so long as he stays quiet, and still, and never asks questions. Promises of Ivy League and gifted programs and obedience and detachment and the best, the best, the best.
It makes me feel like I'm constantly stumbling backwards even when I want to go forward. It makes me feel like I am swimming upstream and clutching Ethan in my arms in a desperate attempt to keep his head above water before he drowns in the oppression. A desperate attempt to get him to know that his best is what makes the world beautiful and that his best attempts and mistakes are just the fault lines in the foundation of who we are. A quest for both roots and freedom, creativity and apathy and simultaneously understanding with gratitude the opportunities we are able to give to him. Each day feels like a desperate attempt to keep the joy of youth fresh on his skin even when I am met with resistance and smirks and stares and feeling like an outsider in the only place that ever felt like home.