Thursday, April 2, 2009

Red Wagon Philosophies: Part Three (AKA The Final Chapter, I Think...)

Part one is here.

Part two is here.

And here we go...

My own red wagon was what first introduced me to the concept of balance.

Work and play.

Being responsible and letting go.

Practicality and throwing caution to the wind.

One of the problems I find with kids these days is that many of them don’t know how to work through boredom and earn their fun. There are the overscheduled kids of the Type A parents. Between back to back sports schedules, lessons, and whatever else they fit in, they get very little down time. Certainly not enough to push them to their limits of creative imagining. Then there are the kids whose parents are either are at work, or just plain don’t want them out of the house, or just don’t encourage it. These kids watch TV, play video games, or they are on the computer all day.

I’m just finishing up To Kill a Mockingbird with my classes. Did you ever notice how Scout, Jem, and Dill always start their summers out lounging around, bored, and figuring out what to do with their summer surplus of time?

Apparently this topic of not allowing our children to work through boredom and hand feeding them entertainment needs to be left for another post of its own. But you get the idea, yes?

So, moving on.

I introduced the years we lived in a mobile home park on the beach in Malibu before. Across from Big Sycamore State Park. When I was eleven and we moved from the San Fernando Valley to the beach, the red wagon came along with everything else. At eleven, I believe I had mostly outgrown the wagon, which had seen its own wagon train days on our Wonder Years Street years before.

So, one summer day, my friends and I were lazing around in my yard trying to think of something different to do. Hiking? Mmm. Not today. Rock climbing? Swimming? Raft riding? Tree climbing? Fishing off the pier? Been there, done that. Want. New. Entertainment.

I don’t remember who saw the red wagon and decided we should take it tobogganing down the steepest trail on the hill at the front of the State Park, but that’s where we ended up.

Epiphany Number One. The handle of the wagon is not just for pulling. Sitting inside the wagon, you can use it for a steering wheel, a rudder. I remember being blown away at discovering this. It amazed me that this potential had laid latent and pending and waiting to be discovered. That I had almost never uncovered this gem of engineering. (OK. I was a bit slow. My friends acted like I was retarded for not knowing this, so I had to tone down my surprise.)

We selected a trail that zig zagged up the side of a hill and then went straight up along the ridge, perpendicular to the ocean. When we went up the straight edge high enough to get the speed for the turns, and turned to go down, we were facing the ocean. The turn looked like the edge of a cliff. Which it was in a way if you did not make the turn. But contrary to the optical allusion, you would not drop off into the ocean if you did not make the turn, but actually land on the Pacific Coast Highway.

The wagon could only hold three of us and there were four. We took turns being the one to push the toboggan off.

We started off not going too fast and this ended with the wagon anticlimactically sludging to a stop just beyond the first turn.

We gradually worked our starting point further and further up the hill.

By the last rounds, we were careening around the corner on two wheels, our hair blown back by sheer speed, our grins and laughter screaming out from the deepest depths of our souls.

It was the Most. Fun. EVER.

When we realized the rubber was shredding off the wheels we kept going until the wagon could go no more.

My friends asked if we should hide the wagon so I would not get in trouble for trashing it.

We all stood there staring at what remained of the wagon.
It was made of metal and bringing it to the beach had started it rusting. It was old. And now its wheels were gone.

I confidently told my friends the wagon had long been forgotten, was on its last legs anyways, and not only would my parents not be mad we had fast forwarded the wagon’s trail to the dump, but they would surely buy me a new one when I explained I had discovered the most fun activity on the planet.
Epiphany Number Two. Parents don’t always see a child’s perspective of living life to its fullest.

I stood there in shock while my dad stomped and yelled and made a big production of throwing the wagon in the back of the station wagon to take to the dump.

I still could not believe, once I explained EXACTLY how much fun we had, the once in a lifetime thrill, the feeling that we had discovered a true purpose for life itself, that not only did my parents not agree to buy a new wagon…they grounded me. Talk about adding insult to injury.

I remember thinking, and I believe I had about a week to think about it, that if they had a clue what my friends and I had discovered, they would apologize. See the light.

Work and play.

Being responsible and letting go.

Practicality and throwing caution to the wind.

Turns out it was a once in a lifetime experience. I never got another wagon and we found our thrills in new ways. But for months I yearned to experience just one more ride down that trail in a wagon, careening around the corner, smiling and laughing like there was nothing better in the entire world.

As an adult I try to remember to let go of responsibilities once in awhile and take the time to be creative, to relax, to enjoy.

As a parent I try to get my kids to be more responsible.

Ah. The irony of life itself.


Mama Dawg said...

Don't you think, though, that in a way, if you HAD gotten a new wagon, that you might not have been able to re-capture the same feeling and it would be a let down?

Sometimes I think it's good that you have a once in a lifetime experience.

Or not. ;)

Tricia said...

What a wonderful post. This certainly does capture the irony of life, and parenting, and childhood, and on and on. I love the fearlessness of childhood, the immortality of youth and I wish I knew how to bottle just a little bit of it to keep with us for a longer period of time.

mo.stoneskin said...

In many ways I am still that bored child. I lounge around on a free evening or weekend restless waiting to be entertained. Ah well, one day I'll learn to be creative!

Pseudo said...

I think Mama Dawg might have nailed it. The reason it stands out as pristine is because it WAS a once in a lifetime experience.

bernthis said...

I love it when I present my logic to my parents and they just can't picture it my way. Always a disappointment.

Jan said...

You got grounded???

I'm 46 years old and can't believe that. Your story made me want to go out and buy a wagon...

cheatymoon said...

this was very satisfying. well done, Pseudo...

Pseudo said...

Yes. Grounded. Thank-you Jan for validating my ire from 40 years ago.

And thank-you very much Movie.

Jack said...

Gave me chills: just wonderful! Reminds me of my little adventure when I was a wee girl. My friend and I thought it would be great fun to inflate our Barbie pools and paddle around the lake... hehe!

flurrious said...

This reminds me of when all the neighborhood kids and I would play what we called "Evel Knievel." There were many variations involving bikes, sleds, old tires, large pieces of plywood or cardboard, and, most prominently, a long steep hill that ended on an access road moderately trafficked by City Utility trucks. The object of the game was not to die, although I don't know that we were fully aware of that at the time.

Nicole S. said...

So nice to read something like this - seems like life doesn't work that way anymore. Like you said, too much "overscheduling" of kids. I sure hope my kids get to experience this some day. The pure joy of making your own excitement, not knowing what it will be or how it will turn out, just doing it. Those were the days... :)

Twenty Four At Heart said...

I had a red wagon. I got my kids a red wagon. Hopefully they'll someday get their kids one too. It's an integral part of childhood ....

Pseudo said...

"The object of the game was not to die, although I don't know that we were fully aware of that at the time." Oh flurrious, you win. Evil Knievel indeed.

Casey said...

Great story. Next time, try a shopping cart, those things FLY!

Beth said...

I remember some of the shenanigans my brother and sister and I had in our neighborhood. Let us just say, we had the MOST fun torturing Mr. Welch who liked to shoot his bb gun at us. We would have been better off with a red wagon.

Lori said...

I love this post. There is nothing better then those "once in a life time experiences"...of just letting go and being so free...oh the fun and excitement of the thrill of doing something we have never done before.

I couldn't agree with you more about over scheduled kids and kids that don't leave the house....of kids learning to work through boredom and not need to be entertained. You are right that could be a post of it's own!

Great post my friend!

shaunna said...

you must have done this about the same time my friends and i were driving up deer creek rd at night in a sports car and taking the downhill with the lights off.

i didn't get grounded, but then again i didn't cop to it, either.

(this whole series was marvelous.)

Rikki said...

I love this - I can see a gaggle of girls doing this! You do an excellent job of painting the picture.

This reminds me of the ponies, again. One of the roads had a short oval dirt track and we would run the ponies around it once every time we went by. Once, Brain Jones challenged me to a race on his big ol' 'real-sized' horse, and I beat the pants off him! He was so MAD. If my parents would have gotten wind of that I would have been ... well, I don't know what I would have been, but I'm sure I would not have enjoyed it. But, I can remember that finish like it happened 10 minutes ago.

Anonymous said...

What an awesome awesome story!!!!!

I want to go for a wagon ride RIGHT NOW!

Ironically, the wagon I had growing up was a Radio Flyer just like you have pictured...but it was blue. I've never seen another like it. Dad still has it in his basement. I want that wagon!

Kristan said...

"As an adult I try to remember to let go of responsibilities once in awhile and take the time to be creative, to relax, to enjoy.

As a parent I try to get my kids to be more responsible."

LOL. Great stories! I loved these chronicles!

You know, have you thought about writing columns for a local paper? These are exactly the kinds of things I think would work in that format.

Laura said...

Life as a wagon ride. It all seems to come down to needing to feel the wind on the face when we're young and then closing the windows when we get older. Maybe that's why people ride in convertibles with the windows up, a balancing act. Could driving in a safe car with the windows down and the music up be as close as I get to that experience?

I am a scaredy cat--I would have been the friend pushing you guys off all the time.

Hit 40 said...

Love that you teach in Hawaii! Supposedly they needed teachers when I graduated with my degree. So, I dropped them a resume. No luck. Anyway... your story also takes me back to my childhood. But, I had lots and lots of snow back in the woods on a dirt road to no where. I spent all winter building snow ramps with extra water to make the path really fast. In the summer, my sisters and I cut paths through the woods to try to get to actual children who lived about a mile through the woods in an planned community with a pool. Mostly we just got lots of bug bites.

Debbie said...

You outdid yourself on this one.
I have allowed my kids to experience boredom. But I have not allowed them to complain to me about it. Like your characters, their job is to find a way out of that boredom.

Captain Dumbass said...

I want my children to have as much fun as they can, to enjoy being children. That said, I don't want them to do half the crazy things I got up to as a child.

Fragrant Liar said...

I know exactly what you're saying. When it's us, we allow ourselves to push the envelope, thinking we know our limitations; but when it's our kids, we only want them to push just so far because if we lost them we'd be sad and miserable for the rest of our days. So now it makes perfect sense to me why kids sneak and lie sometimes to get to do some things. Not that they should. But how else can they have some of those life experiences with parents doing what they're supposed to? :) What a conundrum.

daughter said...

is this why you always let us ride our wagon down the hill at the end of the street? since you gave our wagon to our cousins, can you buy me and fratellino a new wagon. PLEASE MOM! :)

Rosaria Williams said...

These are precious memories.