When my oldest son was in a 2s program, he ran into a stumbling block with recess. That is, he went out to the playground just fine; the trouble was coming back in. He refused to come in, in fact, and when it was made clear to him by the nice young women who were his teachers, that it wasn’t a choice, he would sob—an enraged, piteous wail—for much longer than anyone was happy to deal with.
“Why can’t your kid just get with the program?” was probably the real question, but that’s not the one they asked me, perched on their little chairs at our parent-teacher conference. What they asked me, their heads identically cocked, was, “Are you making sure he’s having plenty of playdates?”
I had found it a hard enough task to socialize my own small self in my lifetime, and that was with the benefit of draft beer and rock bands. How much harder it was going to be, I imagined, to socialize someone else, especially when that someone was even smaller, so small that he occasionally pooped in his pants?
Still, I made playdates. What I didn’t do at the time was examine the reasoning behind this prescription, which I think went something like this: if you put your child and another child in proximity with toys, the super glue that is human connection will manifest, and this connection will mean that compliance will emerge, and this compliance will result in your son coming in from recess more easily, and that will be nice for us.
My son was born in New York City shortly before 9/11. At this point, I think we can say that he is growing up in an age of terrorism. With Boston on my mind, I think this is why I have been remembering this nursery school experience. I have been thinking about how compliance and connection are intertwined.
I may be making this up, because people looking back always think everything was simpler, but when I was growing up in the 1970s, it seems like it wasn’t hard to tell who the bad guys were. Robbers who were robbing you had the integrity to look like robbers. The idea of someone robbing you via fakery the breadth and depth of Bernie Madoff seems like it would have been incomprehensible back then. Bernie Madoff himself probably hadn’t had the idea for “Bernie Madoff” yet.
I have not talked to my son much about terrorism. I have hosted some 50,000 playdates. And I am kind of happy to report that my son comes off the playground just fine now. And I am also kind of sad to think that this was ever made to be a worry for me. I have come to the place and time in parenting where I’ve been promoted to homework supervisor, and I now think it is an appropriate and even intelligent response to howl like a dying dog at the end of recess. The fact that recess ever ends is a tragedy.
And yet I don’t want to suggest that compliance is not important. It is, in large part because of its lovely, knotty relationship with connection. So what I think we need now—besides love, sweet love, of course—is an updated model for the compliance/connection relationship, in a democracy, in this particularly problematic age.
I have an image that may help. It is rooted in my experience living here in New York but I think it’s applicable for anywhere in the USA. It is the crosswalk.
The crosswalk, people, is amazing.
In the universe that is the crosswalk, two opposing symbols reign: the gothic, almost burlesque, Red Hand; and, as my husband likes to call him, The Dribbler. (The Dribbler is thus named because he’s depicted in the forward-leaning, long-armed stance of a man dribbling a basketball).
These, then, are our two directives as we stand poised at the edge of the sidewalk, and they circle us back to the crossroads of recess. They are: “Stop” or “Play.”
In another country, maybe, things would be different, but in ours, a beautiful little detail floats into the act now. When it comes to the real, on-the-ground experience of crossing the street, the carefully erected, precisely chosen Red Hand and Dribbler mean nothing. They are ignored. They are ignored so thoroughly that the cops ignore the ignoring. This is our country: the people have the power in the crosswalk.
This may be one reason why there are so many accidents on our street corners. The people have the power here, and people make mistakes. Yet the crosswalk, like recess, like play—which the world is, in fact, dependent on, more than homework, goddammit— can be a thrilling and liberating state.
The crosswalk is where you may find who you truly are, if only because—no matter how deeply you stare into your palm—you can’t phone it in. In the crosswalk, you are in your real body in real time, and you have to make split-second decisions, and minor calibrations, and you may listen to music or talk on the phone or be drunk or high, but you still have to be your real self moving your real self, “Bernie Madoff,” or Bernie Madoff, through space and time, and there is no work-around, no muffing through it some other, half-assed way. This is it. It’s life. Once you start, you have to keep going, one way or another, until you get to the place where “Stop” or “Play” doesn’t mean anything anymore.
Did you cross on the Hand? or Did you cross on the Dribbler? are not the best questions now. Better ones: Did you roll your double stroller over my foot? Are you blocking the box with your SUV? Were you patient while the old man with the walker with the tennis-ball feet shuffled really slowly across? Did you help the kid who dropped something?
Or: How do you treat others/yourself in this space? Do you recognize our shared purpose? Do you honor other people’s journeys? Do you see how perfect this ballet is, how we all in our various ways, contribute to arriving peacefully at the other side of the street? Do you know that this is a miracle that you contribute to everyday?
OK, good. That block is behind us. Here’s The Dribbler or the Hand, I don’t know. Let’s go forward. Let’s cross now.
OK. Now, for an extremely nice wormhole. You remember what those are, right?
This one comes from Antoine Boisvert, who is writing us from Salem, Massachusetts.
Dear “Dr.” Fusselman,
I have a wormhole for you, although I don’t know if you are still collecting them..
[It] revolves around the Long-Playing record. I was deeply invested in records, and I had my own turntable (can a Fisher-Price product be referred to as a “turntable”?) from the age of about five. Every record was a narrative. And most records, so far as I was concerned, had only one side. Side two was usually left unexplored, while I pored over Side One, determining the scenes, the characters, and their motivations. Often the story I was decoding was a story about myself, so it was deserving of very serious study. Sometimes I had to decode stories from symphonies, and sometimes from Rock & Roll Records. The most rewarding were soundtracks to films or plays that I had never seen. I listened intently to the Bedknobs and Broomsticks soundtrack for many months. It came from the library. To this day, I have no idea what it was really about.
The flip side of fascination was terror. I lived in terror of the various bad sounds, unplanned sounds, that a record can make. The sound, for instance, of an accumulated dust-bunny causing the needle to skate across the surface of the LP, or of a skip (even though some skips I was so used to that I sang along with them) or of a needle landing wrong and somehow not going down in the groove and making a hideous static squawk. I actually had nightmares, cold sweat nightmares, about records playing badly, and being neither able to intervene to make it right, nor explain to the adults in the dream what was wrong.
Then I grew up, and started having tapes, and eventually CDs, and now hard drives. I stopped looking for my own personal stories in music. I don’t know why. I still get a frisson when the music plays wrong, however.
Wasn’t that lovely? Yes, it was. Keep those coming, friends.
xx Doc Fuss