We live in a town that is not really such, to the extent that when one considers the term, the usual town-ish accouterments come to mind: Shops and sidewalks, pavement and parking spaces. A certain atmosphere of bustle, even if only in a modest way. In our town, there is town hall that’s open four hours each week, the church I’ve mentioned many times over, and the chainsaw repair shop I wrote about here and here. Indeed, our town is so small it does not have its own zip code, and instead shares one with another small (but not quite so small) town a few miles down a winding gravel road.
I was told recently – by someone who knows such things, so I believe it – that our shared zip code holds the distinction of having the highest free and reduced school lunch rate in Vermont. This might not mean it’s actually the poorest zip code in Vermont, but it’s certainly an indicator that poverty is very real and very present. This is not quite so obvious in the half of the zip code comprised by the town we inhabit; while there’s certainly plenty of economic hardship in these hills, it tends to be tucked away in the folds and creases of the land, there if you want to see it, but easy enough to avoid if you don’t. And it’s obvious that many of those living here do have some resources, as evidenced by large and well-kept homes on sprawling plots of land.
I have noticed lately, during the many times I drive down the Main Street of the town down the road that shares our zip code, that I almost never fail to see children playing outside; some of you might remember this little vignette, which occurred along this particular Main Street. Running, riding bikes, hula hooping, sliding on the little slide at the little playground in the middle of the little town. And noticing this, I realize how rarely I see children playing outside beyond the borders of this community, even in wealthier zip codes, where one might presume a relatively high degree of awareness around the value of a child’s play.
I wonder why this is. Perhaps the children of the small town down the road possess fewer material distractions, lack the multi-hundred-channel TV packages, the high speed Internet and the associated devices. More soberingly, maybe they pass their days outside in order to avoid whatever awaits them inside. Or perhaps I’m wrong about the degree to which child’s play is valued in more prosperous communities – maybe there’s an even greater value placed on the awareness that to get ahead in this world, one does not spend one’s childhood playing. Could it be that simple play has become an economically disadvantaging factor in modern America? It saddens me to consider this, but yes, I think it could.
The truth is, one of the reasons I no longer write much about education – and specifically, my children’s education – is that my ideas on the subject have softened and broadened with time. I remain grateful to have chosen the path we chose; indeed, even more so as my children mature, and I witness their evolution in ways I believe are at least to some degree related to their atypical path. But I also meet many wonderful and engaging children who are embarked on a more conventional educational journey, and by all appearances happily so, and I think what do I know? In truth, I think this pretty frequently, and relating to many more subjects than education and childhood, and I have come to believe that for me, at least, one of the great benefits of aging is the accruing wisdom to recognize how little I really do know and understand, and how comfortable I can be with that.
But I still know this: I am grateful to have been privileged enough to offer my boys the opportunity of unstructured play, as much and as often as they’ve desired. I do not think I will ever regret that. And I know this, too: When I drive down the street in the town down the road, and I see children playing – sometimes, many, many children, more than one might imagine could even live in such a small town – I always slow down a little, just to watch.
Because it makes me really, really happy.
Music of the day:
Jeff Tweedy putting music to Woody Guthrie’s lyrics: Remember the Mountain Bed
Bill Mallonnee and the Vigilantes of Love: Nothing Like a Train
Chad Stokes: Our Lives Our Time
And just because I can. Turn it up!