Certain customs, traditions, or bodily developments may make children feel as though they are adults. In Barrow, Alaska, at the tip of the Arctic Circle, boys are killing whales as a rite of passage. Some girls feel different, older, when they get their first period. About twenty years ago on North Meadow View Circle, I felt adulthood offer its hand and take mine in a firm shake. I think we agreed that from then on, I had the freedom, and burden, to make choices that mattered.
Until I saw my first blue ten-speed in the driveway, the burden of choice included whether to be or not to be nice to my sister and let her sleep in my bed when she was scared at night. The ten-speed ushered in such an important moment not because it was shiny and faster than my purple banana-seat bike with the white wicker basket and horn but because it was not very shiny nor very blue. There was just a little rust on the spokes and chains. It was, in fact, from the dump.
I remember really wanting a ten-speed and I remember the uncertain look on my mom’s face Christmas morning when we walked outside to see the best and last present of the holiday. I think my dad might have been a little proud. I have no doubt that he polished that bike up and made it look really new for being pretty old.
I had never gotten a Christmas present from the dump, but I knew right away this was an important moment. I knew my mom wasn’t sure if it was okay; I knew my dad thought it darn well better be. I knew I had two choices: 1) “What?!? How could you get me the thing I have wanted my whole short life from the landfill?” or 2) “It’s amazing what people throw away these days. This puppy looks like it can ride.” Maybe my parents remember differently, but I remember forcing the smallest ping of disappointment to evolve into pride. I remember loving my parents that day a lot more than I loved the bike. Somehow, getting a bike from the dump that my dad cleaned up and my mom hesitantly presented made me feel special.
Not having enough money is underrated. We weren’t poor growing up, but my parents had to work hard and somehow I knew that a solid, functional bike from the dump was a good find for us. When a twelve-year-old Clara asks me for her own flat-screen television and iPod, I don’t want to go into some moral debate about how young is too young to be alone with one’s electronic pleasures. I just want to say we can’t afford it, she can save her allowance, have her know it’s true, and be done with it.
Clara brings me diapers when she’s tired of sitting in her own urine and she puts Hadley on the rocking chair when it’s bedtime. She goes to get her boots when I ask her if she’s ready to go and she points to her toothbrush when I ask her where it is. She does all this, so I’m pretty sure she knows all her toys are used and mostly come from the Mom-N-Tots consignment store. She loves spaces she can claim as her own, so to keep her out of the Tupperware . . .
we found her a new reading chair next to the outdated crib sets.
It’s a frog. Now, in the morning, when Aaron reads the paper and I lounge in bed with the new poet laureate Philip Levine’s collection, Clara toddles out to her chair, grabs a book off the shelf, and pretends to read, too. I know. So perfect it doesn’t even matter that she’s getting us out of bed at 5:30 a.m.