Friday, November 14, 2014

The Moments Between or The Essential Nothing

It's the nothingness of it.  Childhood, that is.  And, not in an existential, angsty way.  No, just an empty, waiting-to-be-filled nothingness, a sort of holy void or a soul waiting to be conjured or a mind waiting to be wired, however you might describe it.  Not that.

Today I am thinking of the nothingness of the days we pass as children.  We remember the bigger events and wilder moments.  We forget what happens between them.  There is a lot of time to fill between toddlerhood and puberty, hell, there is a lot of time to fill between birth and death.  We sort of forget that, except, when we don't...

I used to look back on my childhood and remember the grandness of it, the sled rides and bicycle jumps, the football in the mud, the holidays, the deaths and lost pets, the friends.  Now that I have kids, boys in particular, I find myself looking back and recalling the "nothing-to-do" moments.  The moments between.

JB, my best childhood pal,  and I dug holes - not a hole, mind you - multiple holes, trenches, dugouts in the roots of a tree, bunkers, rock-filled foundations.  In fact, I have a scar on my forehead from he and I digging horse shoe pits in the back yard.  I bent over as he was coming up and his shovel tip got me good just above my left eye - twelve stitches worth.  That may sound energetic and boyish and a little wild and adventurous.  In all honesty, it was mostly standing around leaning on shovels talking, talking about, well... digging a hole.  It was nothing.

Another childhood friend, JR, and I used to get together at his house and draw cars.  We used protractors and rulers and compasses to draw big finned roadsters with fiery carburetors and big block engines or long lean dragsters with smoking tires and spoked wheels.  We did it for hours on end, talking about, you got it, race cars and colored pencils.  It was nothing.

I read endless Hardy Boys and Sherlock Holmes and... oh yeah, sports novels.  Back in the fifties and sixties there were these short little chapter books about a boy or a group of boys who faced some sort of difficult dilemma, often moral, and had to figure out how to overcome it, usually with some shenanigans, and win the big game.  They came in football, basketball and baseball.  By the time I discovered them in the early seventies, their pages were yellowed and torn, the spines were tired and the checkout card filled with the names of families I knew, boys long gone.  They were trite and mindless and, again, nothing.

Another next-door neighbor, EW, taught me how to make cubes out of paper.  I suppose you'd call it origami today but, believe me, I'd never heard of the word when I was nine or ten and learning to make these elegant cubes.  I think we ran out of ideas and desire to make more paper airplanes and moved on to these.  We spent a few weeks obsessing over them.  We made little tiny ones and big ones out of butcher paper, we learned to color them before we folded them, we bopped them back and forth, I think we ignited some made from newspaper and threw them of his back deck if you want to know the truth.  I could still make one today, blindfolded.  It was just another way of doing nothing.

Good nothing.

Essential nothing.

The boys stare down at their Kindles a lot, often there is a Disney show running on Netflix at the same time and... it irritates me.  But, it shouldn't.  Some parents fill all the moments between for their kids.  That's cool, it makes for smart, clever kids, but doing nothing between somethings is as important and also makes for clever, smart, albeit sometimes odd, kids.

Zack drew this between something and something else.  It's "Pandini the Panda" eating bamboo in a forest of... bamboo:

Nick drew this when he got home from school one day as he waited for Z to finish his homework, it is a cat gazing into the distance:

Well, uh, no, actually it is one of his line-eyed-big-headed-floppy-eared-thong-wearing-ninja-dudes, sorry:

Zack found time between home and the optometrist's to do this:

Nick spent about three minutes crafting this between spilling his juice on the carpet and eating three pieces of Halloween candy:

And I will never know what this is or why someone took the time to make it, but I know it was between four and five o'clock yesterday afternoon:

In the grand scheme of it all, these things and so many more are just the detritus of our everyday life, the throw-away nothings that those moments between the big moments produce.  Stuff we think we've forgotten but we haven't.  Just like the nothings we do, stargazing and cloudwatching and holedigging, the nothings we produce build and form us as surely as winning the big game or shaping hope in our souls or learning to love or any of those "memorable" childhood times.

For a long while now I have been sitting on an essay called "An Open Apology for All the Crap," or something snappy like that, in which I explain why I feel so sorry we've introduced so many devices and technologies and the like to the boys.  I'll probably publish it someday - it's clever enough and kinda sweet.  Except there is one problem with it, it is from the wrong point of view.  They love the technology.  They love the Kindle, the laptops, the Wii, all that stuff.  And, when I give it some real thought, I would've, too.  It is nice to have something easy and mindless to do, between the hard parts.  Hell, I blog...

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

N: "I have had enough of your smart-alecky responses."

Z: "They were remarks. And it is aleck, not alecky."

N: "Exactly."

Now I'm confused...

I am glad you could stop by today.  I have written about JB and my own growing up before in this post, Sticks and Stories and in a few others along the way.  See ya next time.


  1. Well done, the simple things are the simple pleasures we love to reminisce about because they added something to our day.

  2. When I was a kid my brother was holding a snow shovel over his shoulder, turned to the side and the shovel hit me in the face and broke my glasses. No stitches for me, unless you count the laughter.

  3. Well put as always Bill and I gotta say, I love me some nothing from time to time. My two hockey kids were always so super busy at rinks we never fretted about them (particularly the Boy) spending in between season hours playing COD on his Xbox. Everyone needs a little time for cloud watching, navel gazing or whatever you want to call putting your brain on pause. Thanks for the reminder...

  4. The sports books you talk remind me of Matt Christopher. Do you know him? I read all his books when I was a kid. I was one of the few 10-year olds with a favorite author. My older son read a few of his books. Cool stuff.