I’ve been reading a book to my class, a book by Beverly Cleary called Henry Huggins. I read it in fourth grade (but hadn’t picked it up since), but I remember bringing it home from the Hamburg Public Library and loving it. Filled with the small adventures and trials that befall ten-year-old Henry and his dog, Ribsy, the book is a snapshot of a child’s life in the 1950s. I worried my students might be turned off by the quaintness of the book – there are no wizards or magic tree houses or talking sponges, just a boy who finds a dog and has to deal with calamities on the level of losing a friend’s football or getting picked against his wishes to play the lead in the school play. As I read it to my class, I was amazed at how dated the book seemed. I don’t mean dated in a negative way; maybe far-removed is a better term. The things Henry does in the book, things portrayed as natural and everyday for a ten-year-old boy, are things I can’t picture my own students doing. He takes a bus, by himself, downtown to go swimming at the YMCA. He stays out alone late at night in the town park (digging up night crawlers to sell to pay for his friend’s football). He and his friends spend long stretches of time on their own, pretending to be circus acrobats or playing catch - doing nothing in particular beyond what strikes them in the moment, far away from the scheduled after school and weekend routines of the students in front of me. I read this book, and I feel old – old because my memory paints my childhood as more like Henry’s than theirs; old because I can’t help thinking that “now” isn’t as good a time to be a kid as “then”; old because I feel like any minute, I’ll start beginning sentences with the words, “In my day…” But don’t all parents feel this on some level? Thirty years from now, will Violet be thinking something similar? Maybe, but I still want a “then” childhood for Violet. One with plenty of rock-skipping and rock-flipping, long afternoons spent wondering, “What should we do now?”, and, as God is my witness, there will be forts.
145 days old