Sunday, February 17, 2013

Strange Adventures

One of the most common themes in children's literature, indeed all of literature, is the idea of leaving home, experiencing strange adventures, then returning in the end to the familiarity of home. It's the story of Maurice Sendak's Where the While Things Are, Paul Owen Lewis' Storm Boy, and L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz, to name only three from what is certainly a limitless collection. 

These are all photos from a recent adventure we took together to Seattle's magnificent downtown library.

It's a fundamental concept, especially for young children, who know from very early on, even if they don't want to know, that it is their ultimate destiny to leave the nest, to make their own way in the world. It's, of course, both a terrifying and exciting notion, so we tend to offer the promise of always returning "home" as a kind of comfort, even while we know that someday they will leave and not really return except as a visitor, because they will have made their own home elsewhere in the world.

It's not just through literature that we prepare them. We send them off into the real world to have adventures from the time they are quite young, first with grandparents, relatives, and friends, then later to schools and summer camps, which is on one level really a process of expanding the idea of "home," but also a real-world "proof" of the stories we read to them as we snuggle in bed night after night with Harry Potter or Alice or Peter Pan.

No one tells the story of the parents who remain at home, the home that we've created with and for our loved ones, even if it is every bit as universal as the story of Max in his wolf suit. That's because it's a boring tale, I suppose, one full of convention and routine, perhaps also full of meaning to those who've created it, but far too subtle and personal to attract an audience of more than a handful.

I once lived in an apartment that had a full view through a glass roof into the condo-home of a well-known corporate executive. The novelty of spying on him as he read the newspaper, tapped on the computer, and puttered around the kitchen wore off after less than a week, even as he was as dynamic a corporate titan as there was at the time. As important as it is, the story of staying home is not one for the wider world.

No, our story, like all great stories, is a bitter-sweet one in which we repeatedly kiss our babies goodbye, then welcome them home until they don't come back. Perhaps many of you still see yourselves as out there on your own strange adventures, those babies you hold on your laps as you read here being part and parcel of your grand story. But for most of us, it's an increasingly domestic adventure, at least while our children are young, and that's as it should be. Before a child can chase the rabbit down its hole he must first have a home to anchor the first part of the story. And, of course, have a place to which he can return to find a supper that is still hot.

My own parents are now retired and at any given moment they're somewhere else in the world, traveling, having strange adventures, then returning home. 

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1 comment:

Gabrielle said...

Thanks for this Tom. My 19 year old leaves home this week for Uni. As you wrote, he has been leaving and returning all his life but I really feel like this is "the big one". Thanks for a beautiful post.