Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Coming of Age


The following is taken verbatim from Calvin’s travel journal: “Mesa Verde National Park. Is. Awesome.”

Never mind that I have a woefully inarticulate child. He’s right.

But since a picture’s worth 1000 words anyway, why should I bother prattling on? These photos (despite being taken by me) really do speak for themselves:




Today (or more likely, several days ago, by the time you read this) we toured Balcony House, one of the park’s Puebloan cliff dwellings accessible only by guide (second photo above). You guys: It. Was. Awesome. Getting there was more than half the fun. See, you start at the top of the mesa, then work your way down the cliff, into the dwellings, and back up. First, we picked our way down a steep path nearly 60 feet to reach a 30-foot ladder, which we climbed straight up the sandstone cliff. Then we had to squeeze through two shoulder-width, six-foot-long tunnels (the entire time during which I was adamantly reminding myself that if this structure had managed to remain standing for over 900 years, surely it was good for at least another ten minutes). Once safely on the other side, it was necessary to practically hug the concave cliff wall in order to avoid the 600 foot drop to the canyon floor. All this I did with Toby’s sweaty little palm clamped in mine in a vice-grip. Because if you hadn’t heard, four-year-olds are impervious to danger. Especially great heights. And especially the crumbling 900-year-old sandstone bricks that comprise the only barricade between said heights and said child. It was nerve-wracking as a mother, I must say. In fact, I will say. I did say. Me. Least-protective mother on the planet. So I trust that the gravity of this confession has sunk in.

And I’m not yet finished. After the tunnel was a fascinating (for those not darting glances at the turkey vultures circling the canyon floor while her offspring attempts cartwheels) twenty minute lecture on the brink of the cliff, during which time I had to physically hold Toby because he was too bored to listen and too wiggly for my father’s arms. Following that, the ranger smilingly beckoned us all right to the edge of a 15-foot deep kiva, or ceremonial pit, which was embedded into the floor of the rock and looked alarmingly like a dried-up well. Needless to say, Toby wanted in. We survived that to face another 30-foot ladder, and then finally, a scramble straight up the last slab of granite to the top. For this leg of the climb, steps had helpfully been cut into the stone, coupled with a rusted chain attached through loops in metal stakes drilled right into the cliff.

Here's another psuedo-1000 words to better illustrate the situation:


When the Puebloans lived here, they used nothing but toe and finger holds the size of fingerprints to scramble up, not cushy chains and flat steps, and I am relatively certain they didn’t allow four-year-olds the use of one entire hand and their entire attention.
Kids these days.

In fact, I’m pretty certain the ranger said something about boys becoming men at age seven. But this is still a coming of age story, despite the fact that in our modern culture, Toby won’t be of age for 14 more years, and here‘s why: I always forget how hard Toby tries to reach each and every rite of passage that currently alludes him.

Our trials at Balcony House only illustrate a trend we’ve been noticing this entire trip: he’s burnt out. He’s overtired. He’s chronically confused. Driving through Mesa Verde in our minivan the day we arrived, he continually darted nervous glances between one window and the next until finally asking, “But where are all the Indians right now?” The day before, in Arches National Park, he exclaimed with delight at the sight of an American flag flying outside the visitor center. “Oh! We’re still in Oregon!” Well, er…

Just today, he interrupted in frustration while Nate, my mom and I were having a conversation about carbon dating and how it relates to wood found near a Puebloan site. “You’re all talking Grown Up around me!”

And it’s true. We were. All week, really. And not only has he essentially been trying to communicate in a foreign language, he absolutely never knows the schedule, what state he’ll go to sleep in each night, or what, precisely, a state even is. We thrust a Junior Ranger booklet into his hands and help him fill out activities about tree rings, then feed him food he’s not accustomed to, then force him to stand still while some grown up speaks gibberish, then make him drive in a car before putting him to bed in a cot. You’d be a bit put out as well, I bet.

And of course it’s not as though we’re not trying to make it fun for him, or adapting it to his needs and interests when we can, but he is, after all, the youngest of three, and there are times we simply cannot bridge the gaps in his knowledge with those of his brothers. How can he hope to appreciate the culture of ancient civilizations, for instance, when he isn’t even sure what state he lives in?

I imagine that as he grows, he’ll view his birth order as both a blessing and a curse. In the meantime, I’m trying to allow him plenty of time for the activity he loves most…stalking grasshoppers…and cut him some slack when he dissolves into a puddle of frustrated tears. Tonight while walking back from the camp showers, I explained to him that I visited this park when I was a very little kid, too.

He looked at me with genuine puzzlement. “How did you get big so fast?”

I’d inadvertently stumbled upon yet another knowledge gap: evidently, he’s under the impression that he’s the only one to take so darn long to grow up.
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