Growing up in the rural countryside on a subsistence Connecticut farm, I had a brother just a year older than me and four boy cousins just down the road. I was destined to begin childhood as a tomboy. I skated in my brother’s old cast-off hockey skates, just as I rode his hand-me-down bike and toboggan. I was the only girl on the extended family baseball team and played tackle football, once chipping a front tooth that got me sidelined by my mother for a while.
Either together with the “team” or striking out on my own, there was always frenetic activity and adventures, only skidding to a halt at dusk. I took running leaps over the cliff of sand in the nearby town quarry, climbed the highest trees, swinging from branches like Tarzan. It never occurred to me that I should be Jane — what fun is that? I ran barefoot everywhere and rode my bike barefoot most seasons. I leaned against the tractor wheel covers when my father mowed the hayfield and jumped from the hayloft.
On a dare from a cousin, I once jumped off the roof of the chicken house, angrier at grass-staining my favorite shorts than the red gash on my right knee. Summers at my grandmother’s house meant hiking up rough logging trails alone at age ten, climbing rock face cliffs, getting bug-bit, snake-bit, ivy poisoned, stung by everything flying around and pulling off leeches after a swim in the murky pond. I guess I was a “free range child” of the times.
Years later, when my first grandchild was born and I held his tiny body in my arms, I was overjoyed, suffused with love, and unexpectedly, fearful. Jacob and I locked eyes, and I told him who I was, promising that I would be his guardian angel as well as his Oma. He wasn’t allowed to go out in public for the first six months — his mother’s health precaution. My husband and I often came to his house, two of a very small band of visitors. The hours he spent with just his mother in the confines of his home were quiet and uneventful; he was always startled to hear our knock on the door.
Another six months later, he was running to hide behind the curtains when he heard the knock. It took cajoling and patience to bring him into the open to reach for the gift bag I always brought. I think I realized then what I had seen in his eyes that night in the maternity ward. As soon as he was old enough to go places with us, I took him everywhere, planned adventures, told him stories, encouraged him to try new things, to be bold and speak out.
I took my grandson to celebrate his birthday at the largest indoor ropes course in New Haven. I grilled the ticket attendant for quite a while about the safety measures, since the building was 60 feet high with zip lines, crisscross angle rope ladders, cargo nets, bridges, and plank-walking. By the time I was finally satisfied that every precaution had been taken, there was a line of impatient people behind us. I agreed to purchase the ticket, then the attendant asked “Do you want to exit the ropes course at the end using a 50-foot drop for an extra 5 dollars?”
My sputtered response of Wait, what? was drowned out by my grandson’s confident howl “Yes!” Now I’m thinking — he got that from me.