Back in my age of innocence, when all children’s books looked the same to me, and I could just as easily have read a story about a dog and a box and a ball a hundred times as met the remaining responsibilities of fatherhood – back in the days of board books, my family relied heavily on a funny little title which I cannot pronounce today without including way too many “e"s – Weeeeee Seasons is how we say it – which barely turns up on Amazon any more, but here you go: there are eight of them left at this writing, so get’em while you can, or get anything else in this genre and chances are you’ll be just about as happy.
Favorite, pudgy board books are entirely personal that way, and inexplicable, so I’m not going to be making very many noisy exhortations on its behalf. Here is basically a catalog of the seasons featuring a not-so-feral chipmunk and his parents – drinking pink lemonade, raking leaves, roasting marshmallows, and generally acting out a selection of adjectives, some familiar, some less, some I didn’t even know were words, some scorched across my consciousness forever:
“Spring is showery… flowery… bowery.”
“Summer is hoppy…choppy…poppy.”
“Autumn is wheezy…sneezy…freezy…”
To which I would hasten to add “scary,” and not just because people walk around dressed up like ghouls and sexy nurses. No, autumn tends to give horrifying form to so many of the commitments we made back while we were consoling ourselves with the endless inconsequence of summer. Three soccer practices a week? Really? Show me where I signed up for that. We don’t have a car, so the only way we can even get to the fields is by subway, then a bus whose final destination turns out to be an insane asylum, so way to think that one through, dad.
There’s also guitar, also swimming, and also whatever else will probably pop up on the calendar because somebody claims we are good at it – but we’re never good enough. Oh, and school. Heck, I don’t even go, yet school is about the most terrifying prospect of all from where I’m sitting - here not twenty-four hours from the beginning of Third and Ninth Grades, clouds gathering over the playing fields, ants nibbling on my ankles, mental patients lining up for the big bus trip back to the mainland.
Who raised the stakes all of a sudden? One minute everyone’s learning at their own pace and singing songs about turkeys, then a couple years later somebody is hanging a percentile on distractibility. Wow, the expectations. In one of the high school open houses I attended last fall, a History professor actually took a moment to adjust the height of his microphone before declaring, “There will be at least three hours of homework every night,” and it wasn’t clear if this was meant to evacuate the auditorium or elicit ecstatic applause. This was a very great high school apparently - featuring a model United Nations and visits from John Kerry in the introductory slideshow. Another school’s mission was to squeeze four years of secondary education into two, so you’d get an early start at college - went the thinking - and professional magnificence, and grown-up nervous breakdowns.
Is this what we’re after? Life experience? If yes, then I think there is possibly some wisdom in granting our children an early retirement as well, so at least they can see what is on the other side of all this evolution. In Jon Agee’s The Retired Kid, the eight year old Brian has finally (has precociously?) reached his limit, between babysitting and violin and school buses leaving without him, and announces he’s heading for Florida. Of course nobody takes him seriously, and soon enough Brian is hanging out at ballgames and swing dancing and watching documentaries, but he’s also listening to Tex go on about his hip replacement, and flipping through photos of grandkids with Myrtle. They’re a welcoming bunch, these octogenarians at Happy Sunset, still active, but they’ve earned their reminiscence already, and it’s probably no coincidence they’re spending the autumn of their lives in a state without autumn. Who needs the drama? Well, most of us apparently. Tough to imagine next summer across the eventfulness of a year – across slippy, drippy winter and showery, bowery spring – but we get better at it hopefully, till we cannot blame the seasons for our joy.