'Doggy, Doggy Diamond'
It's time to shake off the dust on our Halloween costumes: My wife, Adrienne, wears a black and teal-green Victorian ball gown, and I wear a black wool morning suit, top hat, and gloves while carrying a cane. Five-year-old Emily will be giving up her bright yellow bee costume (last year's) for the more demure role of a mermaid. Charlie is set to be a sharpshooter, having already done movie characters (Gladiator and Jango Fett), and Caroline, our 13-year-old, has outgrown witches and princesses, preferring an overnight with a friend. I remember my favorite costumes from prior years: a can of Mountain Dew, a bright orange parking ticket, and a 6-year-old girl dressed as a jar of jelly beans (made with dozens of small balloons). Next comes Thanksgiving, the cooking, the parties, and the kids at the top of stairs on Christmas morning, squirming with impatience for the photograph that will mark the passing of another year.
Certain seasons, such as Halloween, give us back our childhood, but most of us don't know what to do with it. Parenting frequently involves putting off demands for yet another round of Monopoly, a supersoaker war, a trip to the Wayside Country Store for candy, or another installment of a made-up-on-the-spot bedtime story when one is dead tired and barely able to crawl between the sheets. Conventional wisdom would indicate that it is part of the natural aging process, and then someone invariably trots out the old quotation, "As a child I played with . . ." Perhaps being childish, a term that smacks of disdain, is a lost art, one to be cultivated.
Last August, I took the kids to a nearby covered bridge over the Battenkill, and we spent the afternoon jumping through a small hole cut in its side. Charlie, my 8-year-old, was the bravest of the lot, his large green shorts catching air on the way down, inflating like a balloon. I jumped next, unable to quell a short scream, the water rising up fast, my legs pedaling hard. I went deep into the cold river and then burst up into sunshine, looking up to see bodies windmilling through space.
That night after supper, I was invited to an evening game of tag. (Our family has endless variations on this game, including ball tag, flashlight tag, line tag, and bloody murder tag.) I soon found myself on the front porch with Emily, who was chanting, "Doggy, doggy diamond, step right out." Whitney, my 15-year-old, was chosen as "it." I hid behind the fenced-in strawberry patch and then ended up running flat out, lungs aching, toward the barn, when I was on the verge of being discovered. We played until dark, crouching behind stone walls, in the sap house, and in the orchard, taking the occasional off-limits shortcut through the kitchen. Afterward, the soles of my feet were grass-stained, the sky was a cut-paper silhouette over a darkened valley, and we sat on the screen porch eating burnt-sugar ice cream, recounting the highlights of the game as if the Red Sox had finally won the World Series. Things seemed smaller and simpler, the green of summer draining life into a still nighttime that drifted on a stop-and-start breeze.
Sitting there after the kids had gone off to bed, I savored the notion of running hand in hand with a tow-headed child. It's easy to treat memories as though they were gold, but they are, I suspect, fool's gold. Observance and remembrance don't measure up to getting into the game itself, pumping your legs while they can still feel the thrill of speed. One of the enduring images of my childhood is of my father, a formal man who wore a tie even when clipping the hedge (yes, he did once actually manage to trim the tie in half), doing the "monkey dance," a strange ape-like shuffle that made my sister and me laugh so hard we cried. At the time, I thought that he was just being silly, but now I see that it took a great deal of courage (and probably a healthy dose of Scotch) for him to make a fool of himself in front of others. Good for him.
So this New Year's I am starting out with a simple vow. Next summer, I'm going to eat the cream first and then the blueberries, just like Emily. I will do a cannonball off the dock into the pond when my kids ask me to go swimming. I will dress up each year for Halloween, hoarding my own bag of baby Butterfingers. I will bake a cake for an "unbirthday" party just when my kids least expect it. I'll eat four slices of pie at Thanksgiving just because I can. I'll take them all to the local cave and roar like a bear starved for a juicy child. And then, next August, I'll be the one to chant, "Doggy, doggy diamond," choosing myself as "it," the lucky one who gets to run barefoot into the ebbing twilight, a child again, on the cool, dew-napped grass.