The Continuity of Life
The other day, I watched as they tore down my childhood. Them- in their neon orange helmets and fluorescent yellow vests. The big dumpster truck careening over the edge of the sand pit.
We had gathered to watch the massacre. There was something almost hypnotic about the dance of the demolition head, carefully caressing monkey bar metal, the melody of the scrape of the slide. And then slowly, methodically, it began.
Years of turning the tic tac toe wheels fell in one swoop. The cheerful slide that always gave you a bum full of sand at the end, crumpled in half at the hands of the men. The monkey bars that I could never master-I would never get a chance to try again. And the platform where I went at night, to battle myself, to hide my worries from my family’s kind eyes- all gone in an instant.
It moved the ground within us. Yet, at the same time, everything was still. None of us spoke for a while, not me nor my assembled siblings. It was like we knew, even without speaking, that our childhood memories deserved a minute’s silence.
It is tough to watch them take away your childhood- to see them shred it into pieces, haul it into the truck and back slowly out of your life. After they were gone it was the strangest feeling. The memories were still there, all of them, but the physical structure that had housed them my whole life was no more.
It was a traumatizing afternoon. The rest of the day we spent, sitting at the dining table, talking over our shared past. We were glad to still have each other. And thankful for the one swing set they had left behind.
The week before I turned 21, I remember being scared. It was the year of the birthdays. All my friends had been turning into adults for months and it was, at last, my turn. I had thought about this age since I was a kid. I remember being 12 and looking at my sisters in university and thinking they were the coolest people on earth. I remember trying to imagine myself their age and coming up with nothing. A big blank black hole of a person. I was me and I couldn’t imagine being any different- any more grown up. And here I was, going to become one- a grown up. But the thing was, I didn’t feel very different. In fact, I felt small, the smallest I’ve felt in my whole life. The idea of turning 21 terrified me. I didn’t have it all figured out- I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, what was important to me, who I was-anything. That’s what I thought being an adult meant. And I wasn’t ready.
I kept this to myself and was unusually quiet the whole week leading up to my birthday. I felt like a fuse about to burst. And the worst thing was that I couldn’t stop it coming, the days ticked steadily by.
One night I decided to take a walk with my sister. I was anxious the whole time, trying to decide what to tell her. It seemed childish to have my fears. But I trusted her enough to not laugh at me. Besides, she was an adult, she would know what to do.
The truth shocked me.
My sister told me that it was a lie. That you never really ‘became an adult’. That even now at 26, she was still trying to figure life out. You never really arrived you see, you just kept trying. Turning 21 meant people would start giving you more responsibilities and expect you to handle them. But more importantly, it meant you needed to start seriously trying to be responsible for yourself. No more excuses that someone else would take care of it. No one would expect you to change overnight. Everyone would still be there to support you. But you owed it to yourself to try to begin to stand on your own two feet. Like the baby giraffe that has just been unceremoniously born. Though his knees buckle, he must push and push and try desperately to stand up. His mother nuzzles him and attempts to use her neck as a crutch. But ultimately it is the baby who must find it within himself to stand. If he can, he has so much potential ahead of him. One day, he will reach heights he cannot even dream of.
And it all begins with the first step, the first push, the first struggle. Fall, fall as many times as you need, but always get back up again.
I felt like I had been let into the secret society that night. I had a new powerful truth in my mind and it made me bold. I didn’t have to feel scared to turn 21 because nothing happened- because everything would still stay the same. Yet inside, I knew the way I saw the world had changed.
The day my sister told us she was pregnant was a screamer. The whole house erupted in cheers. There were weird sounds mixing in with incoherent congratulations. My aunty who was in a bathroom upstairs thought something crazy must have happened below. And she was right, because in a moment, our whole world had changed. We were welcoming a new life into our family. Prouder grandparents there couldn’t have been, and gleaming siblings beating the actual parents to taking their baby’s first ‘welcome to the world!’ video. It was really something special.
After the initial furore died down, we began- as all good would-be families do- to plan. We called the as-yet-unborn-babe ‘Sprog’. And Sprog would need everything. Enthusiastic aunties volunteered to baby-sit, uncles spoke of grand playroom lessons and the grandparents prepared to behave themselves and show a good example to the young ones. The old attic room that was my sisters would now become the playroom for all the future children, starting with hers. You couldn’t see it now, but a play mat here, a table there- we would have it ready in no time. The old board games needed to be brought down and dusted for use. The stories our parents once read to us would once again be cracked open at the spines, ready to enchant a new batch of pyjama-wearing scholars. And our toys- oh our wonderful mismatched toys!- would fall into tender grasping hands again. It was a wonderful future to behold and we set about our task with a happy purpose.
Even as I look out the window and feel a twinge that we cannot take them to the playground their parents played at, I can see the new hope just over the hill. They’ve built a new slide, monkey bars, watch tower-everything, to make up for the one they took away. It looks and smells different from the one we knew, but it has room to house the dreams of the next generation. And at the end of a long play day, when they are tired from the running, screaming and catching, we will take them to the old swing set that we all know and love. We will boost them up, draw them back and watch them swwwwwwwing as our parents did before us, squealing as they try to catch the sky.