Exploiting My Baby* *Because It's Exploiting Me

Does a Perfect Childhood Make You Soft?

General StuffTeresa Strasser15 Comments

I ask this question during my fourth go-round with the song, “Ghostbusters.” It’s playing in the industrial parking lot of a quaint Pennsylvania suburb where a group of elementary school children are having a Halloween parade. An amplifier is perched on a chair, an orange extension cord leading to a cute schoolhouse, complete with glimmering swing set.

Sure, it’s an industrial complex, but filled with holistic chiropractors and fancy personalized gyms. The children dutifully march in an oval, all being feverishly photographed by their parents. Siblings too young to be in school are clinging to their moms’ legs wearing ladybug costumes or puffy princess dresses.

The principal, dressed in an elaborate penguin suit, addresses the crowd and it starts again, tinny, cheerful: “If there’s something strange, in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!”

Well, there is something strange in this neighborhood, the fact that there is nothing strange in this neighborhood.

Bucks County, PA, at least from where I sit, is a world of gummy, removable pumpkin stickers for the sliding door to one’s giant manicured lawn. It’s a world of Halloween-themed puffy marshmallow ghost Peeps atop steaming cups of homemade hot chocolate in Number One Dad mugs. This is a Jack-o-lantern expertly carved with stencils world. Who you gonna call? Your neighbor to see if she and her toddler twins want to help decorate your witch cupcakes.

Back to me staring at this parade of children. I realize this town is a world of children, a world built around and for them, softer than a stack of Peeps on a heap of fall leaves. Later in the day, I will attend another parade to see my nephews march, both as Superman. My toddler will step in line with his own matching Superman suit, trailing his suburban cousins. This is my husband’s world, part of his childhood, whereas I grew up on the mean streets of San Francisco.

It’s not a saying, I mean, it is a saying, but the streets were kind of mean.

“If there’s something strange, in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?” Um, not the Popo, not where I grew up, because they’re busy scraping a body up off the corner in Hunters Point. You know what else was strange in my neighborhood? Child molesters. Yeah, I’m about to bum you out. Instead of the principal putting on a penguin suit, we had several assemblies every year during which we were warned not to follow anyone asking for help “finding lost puppies” or offering candy.

A guy once offered me a ride home from elementary school, leaning out of a rusty sedan, but I was so convinced my mom would never have arranged a ride for me I knew he was “something strange” and ran through an empty lot to my flat on a nearby hill, which I entered with a latch key. Looking back, this didn’t even merit telling my mom.

So, staring at the orange extension cord allowing the citizens of Bucks County to hear Ghostbusters as their adorable children made the rounds as Woody or Spiderman or Rapunzel, I asked myself, what’s so wrong with adults taking the day off, fitting themselves into a world of kids?

For reference, just know that when I was young, my dad took me to see the film, “My Dinner with Andre,” because he wanted to see it. The entire film consists of two guys talking philosophy over dinner, one of them played by Wally Shawn. I felt lucky to be included, because us city kids, we were just trying to fit into a world of grown-ups. Even if the films weren’t animated and we would never get a Wally Shawn action figure, we made due.

How could this type of life not be better? Or, am I just bitter? Maybe a Peep in my cocoa would have made me a happier person.

On the other hand, as I stare at the quiet streets (and duh, I get it, children get hurt here and everywhere, but you know what I mean) I wonder why it bothers me, just a tiny, teeny, weensy bit, that these kids are the center of the world. Striving and longing can’t live in a place like this. If they did, they would have a Beagle named Rascal and a $3,000 swing set.

Striving and longing breed symphonies and novels and vaccines and microprocessors, right? But maybe it’s okay for most of us to just be happy and serene. Maybe that’s my prayer for my own little Superman, to one day have a mid-level management job, a quiet mind, a decent dental plan and in his own worn mug, a slowly melting Peep.