Betty's working up a great series on childhood nostalgia and the great outdoors. Here's Part 1 and Part 2, with more to come. I'm enjoying reading it as my older three girls are down the street, playing with the neighbors on the corner (and the younger two are napping, A.M.D.G). Our current neighborhood is very conducive to children charging down the sidewalks or popping in at friends' houses, and you can bet I work it to the hilt. This is easy, though -- we live in a fairly middle-class neighborhood in which kids near us (all those we've met, anyway) all come from the same basic class and educational background as we do. And as we're newer in town, we haven't had the chance to meet many people who would challenge our comfy sheltered existence.
I remember when I was young, being befriended by a girl in my second-grade class named Marcie who was, perhaps, developmentally disabled. She was probably lonely and the butt of jokes, and if I wasn't agape itself, I wasn't unkind to her. She latched onto me, even calling my house several evenings. This made me apprehensive, especially as I had a hard time understanding her thick country slur, and I recall that I begged my parents not to let me talk anymore. And they agreed that a seven-year-old was too young to be getting calls. I felt a great relief at not having to bear the solitary burden of Marcie's social life, with a tinge of guilt that I didn't want to be more compassionate.
In fourth grade, the last year before we started homeschooling, I played with a girl named April. I was uncomfortable around her, for she seemed rough and coarse, but she seemed so genuinely to want me as a friend that I pitied her. I guess I must have liked her well enough, because at some point I invited her over for a sleepover. She in her turn must have liked me well enough, because she came.
We played dolls, lining them up and setting tasks for them. One of the dollies didn't behave to April's satisfaction.
"That's it -- I'm going to have to spank you!" she announced, and began to beat away at the doll.
"Stop!" I cried. But April wouldn't leave off spanking the doll. It had been bad, she explained, and deserved it. She seemed amused by my agitation.
I ran for my mother, who seemed taken aback by the vehemence of the doll's punishment but calmly explained that we didn't play spanking games at our house. April desisted, the sleepover ended, and I didn't see her after we started homeschooling. I didn't mind not seeing her anymore, as she always made me uneasy, but I wondered who would play with her now I was gone.
My children, on the other hand, have always had a very homogenous set of friends. I don't stir far out of my comfort zone these days. We don't volunteer at soup kitchens or protest outside abortion mills or go to mass in the inner city. Come to that, we don't even know any broken families. I want to preserve this idyllic enclave for them, to keep the evils of the world at bay just a bit longer. I'm less worried about injured bodies than injured souls. We're living in the grace period now, and I know it can't last forever.