Saturday, April 4, 2009

Is the past better because it was better, or because it's passed?

I had made it my purpose to write a new entry every week, but with work, school and having been sick this past week, it's become a bit of a challenge. 

Last week I hung out with my best friend from my childhood. We have been friends for 21 years now. 

We have drifted apart and grown closer, depending on our activities, our lives, and on where I was living at the time; but our friendship never really did fade away completely. We may not see each other in months, or even years, but when we run into each other, or when one of us finally decides it's time to call the other one, we are both happy to reunite and we are as comfortable around each other as we always have. I don't think I ever had an awkward moment with her, and we have a history of 21 years so there's a lot of shared moments, stories and anecdotes to remember, if we ever get a little nostalgic. 

We've never had a fight (we fought as kids, but it never lasted long, and it never was big enough to scar us or our friendship in any way), and I think that is due to her patience and extreme tolerance, as well as my excessive need to tell everything that is on my mind to the people I really care about, and my ability to respect her privacy and her space, and to realize when she needs some time alone. So, after all we've been through (our friendship is as old as a person who can drink, that thought has a bit of a shock effect on me, so it's safe to say we have gone through a lot together), I would define my friendship with her as everlasting.

My introductory paragraph is not the main topic of this entry. I am not going to make an entry about a person, not right now anyway, but with out birthdays coming up (hers is next week, mine is not for another two weeks or so), I had been feeling a bit nostalgic and I have been thinking a lot about my childhood and my life, and all the turns it took, before it finally landed me where I had always wanted to be, even though that took me a while to realize.

If, to my usual April nostalgia, we add the death of the first democratic President after our last coup, the President of my childhood, so to speak, we can pretty much guarantee that I will feel a bit evocative of those years when life was harder for my family, but much, much simpler for me.

Raúl Ricardo Alfonsín (March 12, 1927 - March 31, 2009)

President from 1983 to 1989

My husband knows me a lot, probably more than anyone (because I say absolutely everything that is on my mind to him), but up until about a year ago, he used to think I had been an apartment child, well, he couldn't have been further from the truth, I am an apartment adult, but I was definitely a suburban child.

My best friends from childhood were sisters, and they lived around the corner from my parents, our back yards were separated only by a wall, so we spent pretty much all our waking time together, and we had a lot of slumber parties.

Both our houses were under construction (and construction took a long time, because neither of our parents were rich, and they were building both houses little by little), so we had access to lots of sand, rocks and debris. We had restrictions to where we could play, because of obvious safety rules, but we did play a lot with some of the sand they didn't need, using our parents' old kitchenware to pretend like we were chefs, or just making sand castles in our own back yards.

As the youngest child, I had, in addition to my own, a lot of toys my sisters had handed me down, half of those were broken or too old to use properly, though, cause the youngest of my sisters is 7 years older than me. And my friends had a grandma that sort of spoiled them with presents (as a compensation method for not visiting them enough). Neither of our parents could really afford those expensive things we saw in the commercials between cartoons, but we didn't really need them, we didn't even ask for them, cause we knew asking our parents to get us something we knew they couldn't afford would only hurt them. So in those cold, humid, winter days that we weren't allowed to go out (because my friend had asthma), we would get together either in my house or theirs, and we would lay all our toys on the beds and pretend we were at a County Fair, or the Arcades, and we had fun that way, but, even though we had many of them, toys were never our main source of entertainment, we also played games that did not require them, like role playing games where all we needed was a huge imagination, some paper and some coloring pencils.

In summer we almost never spent time indoors, we either went to my  pool, or, if it wasn't a pool day, we would walk around town, rescue abandoned puppies or kittens (we fed them, sheltered them, and tried giving them to people who would adopt them), pretend like we were archeologists or paleontologists and look for "fossils", which meant we would spend an entire day "studying" a rock we found in the sidewalk. Or, and this is one of my favorite memories, we would put together plays that we performed for our entire families, with an small entrance fee that would allow us to buy ice cream, water balloons, and supplies (such as cute paper, stickers or crayons) for our role playing games (we, of course, had a common fund and we never, ever fought for money).

Well, those were just some of the things we did as kids. I can safely say I had a more than happy childhood, even though the country was struggling politically: there were times of hyperinflation, three (luckily failed) coup attempts, the selling of a company that ended up leaving about 70% of the people in my town unemployed, extreme strikes so the company my dad works for wouldn't be closed, and a bunch of stuff I never even understood. And my family was struggling economically: we bought our groceries from a store across the street, I don't remember paying for food once, I'd go, tell her what I needed, she would write it down in a little book she had, and then my mom would pay for the whole thing when my dad got his paycheck; my dad had to go on a QC trip for almost a month (to get a bonus paycheck that was much needed), it happened to be the coldest month in winter, and our house wasn't fully finished (there was a whole wall missing), so my mom, my sisters and I would all sleep together in the same bed (to keep us warm), we'd have hot chocolate before going to bed and we used all the blankets we had to stay warm at night (those are actually quite fond memories, but I remember missing my dad and wanting him to come back soon), and we had to spend an entire summer working at a rotisserie my dad and his friend had opened up at the beach, so we could finish building the house.

Life could have been easier, my parents could have gotten a mortgage and given us a warm house really quickly, or my dad could have switched to a private corporation and get money real quick, but my parents had principles that they taught me with the example. Sure, I was cold, but I learned that if you work hard for what you want (instead of spending money you don't have), you enjoy it much more once you actually have it; that if you follow your moral values rather than your economic interests, you will later be rewarded (my dad finally got the appreciation he deserved in the company he works for), and that if a family sticks together through the rough times, it can survive anything, and nothing will tear it down (we're thousands of miles apart, but we're still closer than some families who live under the same roof).

So now that I'm turning 26, and I'm closer to starting my own family than to those days in which I was under someone else's responsibility, I am thinking hard about what kind of family I want to give my kids (if I ever have any, which is yet to be determined), and what kind of example I want to set for them.

Looking back at the life I had, I see I could probably say it was a tough life, but it really wasn't, sure I didn't have money or very expensive toys, but I had love and a supporting family, I had parents who made sure all their worries and problems wouldn't get in the way of my own happiness and innocence, and that helped me realize that what's really important in life is who you share it with, and not what you have.

So now I wonder if it's even possible to give a child that kind of childhood in today's world. My niece was born 10 years after me and her childhood consists mainly of cartoons, all her memories are two-dimensional. 

Now it's probably even worse, with computers and easy access to DVDs and video games, do children today have a chance at a three-dimensional childhood? Do children go out to play and exercise their bodies and their imagination at all? If I handed out a cracked wooden spoon, a burnt sauce pan and a pile of dirty sand and water, could I get a child from today's time to come up with a castle, or a stew where the sand is corn flower, the water is sauce and some rocks are the veggies? Could I get a group of children to create an entire town where different people have different lifestyles if I just gave them a sheet of scrap paper and a couple of chewed down crayons? Or would that kid be so used to having entertainment served to him on a platter that he would just give me a blank stare and go get his PSP?

I'm worried. I'm worried that I won't be as good a parent as my parents were to me, that's a worry that will never go away, though, cause they are kind of hard to top. But I'm also worried that all this technological world, this world that is meant to be lived indoors, this two-dimensional world of computer screens and virtual realities, will get in the way of my children having a childhood as happy and simple as mine. 

But then again, isn't that everybody's worry? Doesn't everyone think, at some point in their life, that their childhood was the best, and that time and progress are just making life harder to enjoy? 

I'm starting to believe old people when they tell me their times were better than mine, and now I actually wonder, is that a sign that I'm getting old?