I read a blog post or tweet online a few years ago from a woman who was traveling from Portland, Oregon to LA with her kids. When their plane landed, one of the kids asked, “Mom, why is it so bright here?” The mom laughed and answered “Because it’s so sunny!”
I hadn’t thought of this in forever until I recently took a trip with my four-year-old. We went across the country to see my sisters, brother-in-law, and niece — flying from Oregon to Florida in the middle of a tropical storm, no less. Within moments of walking outside the airport my son turned to me and said, “Mom, why does my skin feel like this? Why is it so wet?”
For those of you who don’t know, the humidity in the southern US is a beast. It’s different from regular sweat — your skin is simultaneously damp and sticky, vaguely warm and mostly clammy, and you feel like every step you take in it is like taking a step through a blanket of moisture… because you are. I grew up in Alabama so I’m well-versed in the wonders of the humidity in the region, and though my son spent three years living in the South before we moved back to Oregon he didn’t remember this particular sensation. I was struck by the funniest feeling, and realized I’ve never considered what it will be like to raise my child in an entirely different environment — and largely different circumstances — than I was raised.
I grew up in trailers in Louisiana and Alabama, the oldest of four children who mostly steered clear of our ragey father, ran wild whenever we could, and did everything to avoid getting too many chigger bites. I was a gymnast for ten years and stomped over many a ball field while playing softball for the same time span. I was competitive and loud while playing sports, but shy and awkward everywhere else. I caught fireflies and set them free, picked up stray dogs from the side of the road where they had been abandoned only to have one of my parents re-abandon them days later. I grew up half in flea markets (where my parents had booths on the weekends) and half surrounded by red dirt.
My son has so far grown up in apartments and houses — first in Alabama, now in Oregon — with two emotionally mature and stable parents. He’s an only child, and though we have contemplated fostering children and/or adoption, it’s very likely he’s going to remain an only child. He can’t play contact sports due to a medical condition, and even if he could he’s not particularly interested. He likes to run wild outside, but his version of wild usually involves riding a bike to a river or patch of woods and exploring. He likes to carry a magnifying glass and stoops low to see what kind of life lives under rocks and in roots, and we have two dogs that we’ve adopted and/or been given. He’s growing up half in science museums and half on nature trails.
I know what it feels like to have apples all over the bottom of your bare feet because you can’t walk in your grandmother’s yard without stepping on at least a dozen. My son knows what it feels like to have mud caked so thick on the bottom of your shoes because everything’s just so wet all the time. I remember family trips to Florida, driving some 15 hours down the highway and sleeping in the back of the van only to wake up surrounded by wind, palm trees, and so much ocean you can’t stop seeing it. My son will remember family trips to the Oregon coast, making sure we’ve packed a sweater, raincoat, boots, sandals, t-shirt, jeans, shorts, and a light jacket each (because who knows what the weather will do).
We so far have a few childhood experiences in common — for instance, our family spends a lot of time in arcades and as a child I was something of an air hockey master — but I’m only beginning to understand just how different our tales of our individual childhoods and adolescence will be. There will be references my son just won’t get, because he probably won’t have the experience to go with them. Like, why would I have to drive two hours one-way to get to the nearest amazing concert venue a few times a year when bands he likes actually come to the town he lives in? For him, he’ll probably have his pick of in-town venues any night of the week.
I wonder if this is true for all parent-child relationships, even for those who are raising their kids in the same place they grew up (which is where their parents grew up, which is where their parents grew up)… or not? I’ve often heard that you can’t go home again, but it’s never occurred to me that I couldn’t take my kid there.