Kidhood should happen when you turn nine … maybe ten.
And last until the day you turn thirteen.
Then it’s over. Done.
That’s when everything you’ve learned starts to count.
Tommy Scott taught me to follow directions … by diagramming touch-football plays on my bony chest … with his index-finger. The McCann brothers showed me how to tough-out a job … by delivering newspapers thru rain and snow. Joey Dandry proved that being muscled didn’t mean you couldn’t be soft … by singing like a choir boy.
Russell Pennington schooled me in music … and taught me how to give every song a chance. Howard Powell taught me to gut a fish … and Chrissy Keubler showed me how to prime an engine … and suck a gas hose.
Matty McCann proved a kid can make a two-story fort … or anything else … with scrap wood and a jar of nails. And a ruler.
I discovered that girls and guys are surely different … but not as different as I imagined. Marianne McLane uncovered my chivalry … and Bonnie Bohrman kick-started my libido without even knowing it. Ruth Ann Repko taught me that ladies prefer gentlemen. And Helen O’Dell showed me how to kiss … very softly. And mean it.
Mark Middleton proved that some adults are racist-idiots … who can be perfectly shamed by a cool kid.
Mary Byrne Hoffman showed me brilliant guts … by reciting every line of “The Song of Hiawatha” … without dying on stage … despite her speech issues. And George Elliot proved beyond a doubt that playing the piano was way cooler than swishing a bunch of jump shots.
Steve Bullock inspired me … by pissing me off … and it cost him a swim championship. And I learned to use that switch to my advantage.
Larry Williams taught me the importance of patience … and helped me fall in love with the guitar. Eddie Plank demonstrated that it wasn’t impossible to be a football star … and a brainiac. And Gary James learned never to sucker punch my younger brother.
And there was more. Lots more.
Lessons on fighting and forgiveness … winning and losing … and even bravery. Instructions on loyalty … and honor. Rules on how to take a beating … and to defend myself … and when enough is enough. And how to shake hands.
I almost mastered the difference between clever and crude … funny and foul … and what to say, and not say, in different situations. And I learned about friendships … how to make ‘em and how to keep ‘em. And how to lose ’em.
I found out that kindness matters … a lot. And that “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is really real.
I conquered embarrassment by learning to laugh at myself … and rescuing others from their blushy moments. I discovered how to go solo … rather than follow the crowd … and be very okay with that choice. I found me.
I was shown how to shoot a bb gun … flick a fly rod … string a bow … and untangle a fishing reel. I mastered zipping around the lake on one ski … and I taught my friends how to to do it, too.
And all of this happened before any of us turned thirteen. Without any adult in sight. Learned all of it from each other.
So don’t play me … or anyone else from my kidhood … that social and emotional smarts can be taught by a computer game … or measured by an algorithm Or monitored by some electronic-headband wrapped around a kid’s noggin.
Don’t think you can raise kids like mushrooms … in a some dimly lit room. Stop protecting them from every life-bump. Quit with the “what ifs” and cheer the “why nots!” … and allow for mistakes, misjudgments, and missteps.
Unplug the machines … and kick ‘em outside. Throw ‘em on a team … dare ‘em and challenge ‘em. And when they show up covered in dirt … with a bit of dried blood … don’t faint … or think cholera is gonna kill ‘em by night-fall.
If it happens enough … well … you just might find yourself living with one helluva kid.