Looking back at old photographs, it’s hard not to wonder over all of that excellent initiative we used to be able to summon. Maybe that is even part of the reason we took those pictures – right? – because we knew a time would probably come when we would need to remind ourselves that we have not always been such automated drones. We are at our best, it says here, when the games that we play with our children require inventing as well as merely keeping up. Who was that guy playing tug-of-war against a dozen or so preschoolers at a birthday celebration? In a sparkly party hat, no less! Who fought those plastic battles with knights on the rug, built Seussian towers from wood blocks, igloos from wet snow, who’s that making a unicycle out of balloons? Oh, right, the clown. But who remembered to bring the camera? Good grief, I can hardly lift my arthritic self off the couch anymore after reviewing the historical record.
The universe will probably continue twinkling and evolving without another sentence dedicated to our creeping parental ennui, still – apart from all of the deadlines which seem to hit harder and faster in our professional lives, and the existential bafflement of figuring out what we want to be when we grow up – maybe it’s also worth considering that by the time the children become less dependent on our entertainment, we might just have forgotten what it was we used to look forward to before they were even around. This is not terminal hopefully, but it may well take some fits and jolts and disappointments to straighten out, and if the kids should need to tag along, then I say, You’re welcome. And we’ll get there when we get there. Remember, I had to sit through “Space Chimps”.
But I also witnessed “Up” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, which I certainly would not have done without the interference of children, and got to read a couple of pretty decent books along the way. In Allen Say’s The Lost Lake a boy is committed to spending the summer with his father – divorced by the looks of it, and a workaholic with little inclination to make memories. It’s hot outside. They’re stuck in a small apartment. This author tends toward the mysterious – and sometimes the utterly baffling – yet all of the reticence feels earned between two characters with such limited recent history. Then summer can seem so shapeless – no schoolwork, no soccer, and seventeen hours of sunlight every day - it’s not unnatural to want to cower a little before all of its limitless possibilities. The boy finishes his books, gets bored with the TV, slumps a little lower in his puffy chair, and probably dreams of a future where thousands of video games can be delivered to your personal handheld device, but alas, this is 1989, so he goes and snips photographs out of magazines instead.
Which rouses something in his father, suddenly, impulsively: what follows is an affirmation every bit as important to the grown man as the growing. It’s a prickly journey back to the sense – if not the scene - of discovery from his youth. They hike deeper, higher, further into the wilderness, the father becoming more determined by the hour. Fellow tourists are part of the problem, and eager developers, still it’s hard to imagine a place that doesn’t take some getting to which you should ever want to share.