Sunday, July 12, 2009

Country Mouse and City Mouse

When I moved to the city as a young woman I thought it was the best darn thing I'd ever done. Suddenly I had art, culture, society all around me. I love being in the midst of a pulsing, busy city like Seattle. Yet occassionally I find myself yearning for wide open spaces and the kind of interactions with nature you just can't get in the city. Particularly for my kids. And for my sanity. Did I mention the sanity? Trying to entertain, educate and inspire two young kids at home (or around town) every day is a test of anyone's mettle. First there's the constant lookout for dangers like traffic and broken glass. Then there's just trying to keep two kids happy at all times, doing the kind of play that won't make me look bad in front of strangers. Then there's just that nagging worry that some freak is gonna grab one of my kids and run off. Unlikely, I know, but you gotta think about these things. So basically I am hovering over or near my kids every minute we're out of the house.

Open-ended discovery play is what I experienced growing up. For all you non-educators, that means your parents opening the back door and saying, "There you go. Be back for dinner." Yep. Unsupervised outdoor play. At our home near Fortine, Montana, my brother and I made forts, harvested berries, hunted for bugs, watched birds, deer, squirrels, and all manner of creatures and never once worried that a "bad man" would suddenly appear from behind a tree. In the winter we went sledding, made snow forts, and ice skated. We rode our bikes (without helmets) up and down every road within a two-mile radius.

Man, we didn't know how good we had it. We were country mice all the way. Completely ignorant of most of the dangers in the world. Ignorant too of the cultural and social experiences our city-mouse counterparts were having. Not that our parents didn't do exceptionally well in providing enrichment activities for us, considering where we were. I had piano, swimming, and tennis lessons. My brother had guitar and Tae Kwon Do. In the summers we traveled to cities and saw art and culture all around us. We even got to Disneyland a few times. (Yes, Mickey Mouse is culture). I'll never forget when my mom made us drive hours away from my cousin's house to see a Van Gogh (the irises) in an art museum. I knew then that art was pretty darn important stuff.

But these experiences were few and far between. Mostly we spent a lot of time driving. A LOT. It took me and hour and a half on the bus to get to high school every morning. Going to shop for groceries, clothing, and anything else we needed more complicated than paper and string required a 60-mile drive to the nearest small city. The whole family made this drive every two weeks. Every summer we drove to California or Colorado to see family. While my father drove my brother and I listened to the same six cassette tapes over and over. Then we stared out the windows, watching the landscape pass by.

I remember the feeling of waiting for something to happen. Waiting for my life to start. There was so much time and so little to do. Perhaps this is a universal childhood feeling. Maybe those city kids with their heated pools and rock concerts were feeling just as bored as we were.

So will I save my children from malaise through the constant stimulus of city life? When people ask me what I like about the city I say it is the opportunities it provides. My kids have done so many things that I never did until I went to college. I hope that their broad, deep knowledge of the world helps to shape their personalities and interests in positive ways. I hope my little city mice can take the big bad world and make it cheese.

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