On my wall hangs a wooden frame. It’s a 4×4–that is, it has room for 16 vertical pictures. The Scientist came home with it around the time that LL was born. He thought we could fill it with pictures of our travels. Specifically, vertical pictures of us kissing on our travels. Over the years, we had amassed quite a collection of kissing pictures, some of which were, conveniently, vertical (they featured the Eiffel Tower, the CN Tower, the Statue of Liberty, Big Ben, and various other upright structures). Some of them were inconveniently, and by their nature, horizontal. I tried to play with them, but here’s what I ended up with:
The White House (can't you tell?)
Hősök tere--without most of its heroes
Who's more important--me or the tower? Can't fit them both!
In the end, despite some very creative cropping, I simply couldn’t fill all 16 blank spaces. “Why don’t you put spacesavers in the remaining ones to indicate where we’ll go next?” asked The Scientist.
“Great idea!” I said.
That was in 2005.
I haven’t changed a thing since. . .
Last week, our Shabbos dinner guests were looking at our 4×4, and the husband, Baseball Dad, pointed at the framed spacesavers inscribed with our dreams: “Great Wall of China,” “The Taj Mahal,” “Machu Picchu.” He smiled. “Are these on loan?” he asked.
We all laughed, but inside I soon stopped laughing. Are our dreams on loan? Oh, I know how dramatic that sounds. But three kids in, one must begin to wonder. When will we make good on our plans to hike the Inca Trail? To spend months in India, feeding ourselves a diet of dal and rice and mango lassis, riding the rails in second class cars, maybe living in an ashram and meditating our days away? When will we have the chance to view the art at the Hermitage? To kayak in Patagonia? To ride a motorcycle across Europe?
At $10,000+/kid for sleepaway camp, I’m thinking that our kids will be spending summers across the street at the rec camp. The wait for the child-free house is two decades away. In 21 years, Baby MoFo will be finishing up at Harvard (or Yale or Princeton or Stanford–I’m not a pushy Yiddishe Mama–whichever he picks is fine by me!). On the plus side, I won’t even be 60 yet. Plenty of time to backpack around the world . . . right? Is there such a thing as a senior citizen hostel? (by that, I don’t mean a cruise . . . ).
* * * * * * * * * *
A short trip from home, the library is a frequent destination. On our recent visit, Cool J picks the movie Up. He smiles deviously. “You’re going to cry when she dies!” he declares happily. LL finds it distressing when I cry, but Cool J finds it hilarious. That’s why, as I’ve noted, he regularly picks Love You Forever as his bedtime story.
But it’s not just Ellie’s death that’s so sad–it’s also the death of their dream that makes The Scientist and I look at each other and shake our heads gravely, thinking of ourselves. That trip to South America is never made by Ellie and Carl because life kept getting in the way–and they didn’t even have kids!
I’m sure there are parents out there who strap their little ones into their Keltys and see the wonders of Peru, and those who enter the Forbidden City with their Bugaboos. With one kid in tow, we started off to be those parents. With two kids, we were skipping the journeys that put us in cattle cars or squatting in keyhole latrines, but we still whisked the kids off to foreign worlds to taste life beyond North America. But with three kids, we’re too poor, and too worried about mundane things like hygiene and routines, to light out for the territory. I remember once–about 10 years ago–chatting with a high school teacher only a few years my senior, a man who had never owned a passport, had never left the U.S, but who dreamed of visiting the land of Shakespeare, the man whose books he taught year in, year out. “But why don’t you just go?” I demanded. “I have kids,” he said. I’ll never be like that, I thought. But I have a feeling we’re not going to be kissing in front of the Easter Island heads any time soon.
So my dear Theodor Geisel, it surprises me not at all that you had no kids of your own, despite your incredible ability to entertain them. As a parent, the places I go, my children go. And the places I don’t go, neither do my children–at least for the next long while. If I were single–not that I would trade my boys for a swim in Lake Titicaca, a trek in Nepal, or a safari in Kenya–oh, the places I would go! After all, as the childless man told us (those childless among us, that is):
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
“You can steer yourself any
direction you choose.”
You’re on your own.
And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll
decide where to go.