Friday, December 20, 2013

guardians of childhood

Nicholas and Julia and I have an understanding.  Well, it's mostly Nicholas and I.  Julia, unfortunately, has encountered the issue at a younger age, due to her older brother's expressed skepticism.

Some time ago, when Nicholas asked if there was really a Santa, I paused for a bit, and then said:

Before I answer that, let me ask you something.  Sometimes there are questions that you would rather not know the answer to.  Is this one of those questions?

Nicholas started to speak.  Stopped.  Closed his mouth.  And walked out of the room.

Aside from the occasional knowing look that I sometimes get from him in the rear view mirror, we have never spoken of this again.


Each year, we try our very best to highlight and protect for our children a love of, respect for and enjoyment of this season.  And to focus on believing in the magic.  Without the commercialized aspects of the holidays.  By doing so, I feel we are trying to protect their very childhood.

Last year at Christmas time, we took the kids to see William Joyce's Rise of the Guardians movie, a rare treat at the theater.  Since then, I have borrowed and read each of his Guardian picture books and novels.  In fact, I'm reading one of them right now.

Now, mind you, I have always had a rather half-hearted approach to the Guardians -- the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost, the Sand Man, and Santa Claus.  It has always felt a bit dishonest actually.  And in some cases, it seems to promote a focus on materialism rather than on the metaphor that the Guardians are supposed to promote, at least in terms of my understanding of them.

But the idea of there being Guardians of Childhood is fascinating and meaningful to me.  There is so much in the world, in the media, and in children's very own lives that is pushing them too soon out of childhood.  So I guard my children's childhood fiercely.

William Joyce -- author of the Guardians of Childhood books, a series which is comprised of picture books, middle grade fantasy books and the film -- is a man with an interesting mind.  And I am a bit intrigued by him.  His sense that childhood is an entity that needs to be protected.  Of a struggle between good and evil, and that the sensibilities of children, their willingness and ability to believe, these qualities are what offer the best protection from darkness and evil.  Joyce talks about his desire to elaborate upon these characters, these well used, but previously minimally known heroes, here.

But there is something about Joyce's Guardians that has made me a bit more of a believer in these characters.  Or at least in the metaphor which they stand for.

For example, I love that Joyce has given the guardians slightly different names.  Like North, instead of Santa.  And that the Sandman is Sanderson Mansnoozie.  I think I married a Mansnoozie.  Somehow this renaming makes me like them more.  A name that is removed from the commercialization of Santa.  A dream maker who knows the power of dreams to overcome struggles appeals to the psychologist in me.  These new names allow me to connect more with them.  The elaborated why did they become who they are makes me understand them, and therefore believe in them, or even just want to believe in them more.  And I think the wanting to believe is more important than the believing itself.

Because, now that I know that they are in cahoots?  Now that I know they hang, and are of the same hood?  A relationship and history between them that is messy but based in history like family, that I never considered before?  Now I know that I can write a note to the Outback bunny asking if perhaps he could keep an eye out for Elliott's tooth (lost in the snow) when it melts in the Spring -- while said bunny is hiding eggs in the backyard.  And then could he pass it on to Toothiana.

And I know that it was perfectly reasonable to make masking tape arrows on the floor of our house with its fireplaces in every room.  To show North where he was supposed to go on Christmas Eve.  Definitely not down the chimney that led to Nicholas' bedroom.  Because to Nicholas at a young age, the idea of a man showing up in his bedroom while he was sleeping was totally terrifying.  And if he had been loud and caustic and thickly accented like North?  Well.

See?  To protect their very childhood.  To allow them the freedom, time, and opportunity to grow, imagine, and wonder without the noise, overstimulation, distraction, and saturation of our adult world.  What I hope is that, by connecting with creatures, nature, the earth, they will be motivated in the future to protect and guard what they believe in in their own individual ways.  And every act that Jonathan and I can do that shows them what we believe,  and that that we still have things we believe in. Despite what common sense, reality, and the nature of being a tall person might contradict?  Hopefully our beliefs and choices to believe get noticed by them.  At least on some level.

* * *

Last night, Jonathan was down on the river shoveling snow for hours.  We had a system going where he would text me every few minutes and let me know he was okay while I was up in the house with the sleeping children.  It was dark down there, and we have a rule that no one can be on the river alone.  We were breaking that rule, he and I, after days of sub-zero temperatures.

There are 18 inches of snow down there.  But he had discovered that if he scooped off the fluffy dry snow, underneath was a smooth and perfect ice surface.  And with some warmer temperatures and rain in the next few days, we wanted to get the fluffy snow off so the rain could hit the ice and then later freeze, hopefully, into a lovely skatable surface.

Texts coming in every five minutes, him telling me he was okay, not at the bottom of the river, and us making digital plans for a fabulous holiday break of skating parties and night skating, firepits and s'mores, and on and on.  I was imagining a huge area being cleared, given how long he was at it.

This morning I went down, thinking I would add a bit to what he had done last night, knowing also I could use a little fresh air and exercise.

Um.  I texted Jonathan.  This can't be safe.

Don't go out on that, he responded.

Was it wet like this last night? I texted back.

No.  Frozen solid and dry.

How exactly does a river unfreeze over night?

And, with that warm up, melt all of our planning for the upcoming holiday break.

I must admit I plopped my snowpanted bottom down in a snow pile and pouted for awhile.  Camera in lap.  Disappointed.  And if you don't believe me, here is my bottom print.

If anything, given that the rain will likely make the snow banks created by our shoveling hard and permanent, it might have been better to have done nothing.

We should have let it be.

So I went down later in the afternoon.  This time I tried to notice the good.  And I did.  I noticed the beginning of a foot trampled path down the bank.  That will get more and more travelled as the cold returns and we spend more time down there.

I noticed a small area just next to the pool.  That if it gets a bit of rain, and is left unfiddled with?  Will be a very nice area to skate upon.

Well.  I took a deep breath.  Maybe we could pass it off as an intended runway for Santa and his sleigh.  Or a frigid lap pool.

Then I turned to a chuck chuck noise and saw in the snow beside me wood chips.

And looked up.  And saw where they had come from.

But, most importantly, I walked down the bank a bit.  And saw a promising area, just around the next bend in the river.  Something like one of the dots on North's globe that mark the places of light, where a child still believes in the Guardians of Childhood.

All we need?  A visit from Jack Frost.

For me, it is those spots of unfussed with au natural ice.  These, I hope, will grow and expand and connect with each other.  So we can have our unbounded and free river skate, up and down the river, following its curves, hopping over its bumps, circling about the brambles in the middle of the river.  Giggling and skidding and falling and bobbling.

And I think it can still happen.  I believe.

But more importantly, perhaps, than us getting out there on the ice, listening to the crisp pings of crackling ice in the moon light?  Is that our children saw us trying.  Saw us trying to make it happen for them.  Saw us excited for it, working on it, dreaming about it, and yes, messing it all up.  Because this is something they dream about all year long as well.  

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