Friday, October 15, 2010

Cow manure and cultural detox

Because the zoning laws in my town forbid me from digging a moat around my house and filling it with hammerhead sharks, I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that protecting my offspring from trash culture may come down to hand-to-hand combat.

But I was reminded of my limitations once again a few weeks ago when my wish — diabolically ambitious as it may seem — of raising a child far from the maddening din and maw of video games, crappy TV and multi-channel, child-targeted marketing scams, had once more taken three steps backward. My boy’s cousins came for a visit.

In my mind, I picture them pulling up in a cloud of phlegm and petrol, wielding boar spears and other medieval instruments through a jagged hole cut in the car roof. But in reality, it was much worse. They came with Webkinz, Guitar Hero, Wii, iPhones, and many other forms of electronic plunder from a sacked Circuit City.

Here’s the problem: I feel strongly that no child needs these things — that these things have the sinister effect of lobotomizing remarkable, singularly beguiling minds, turning children into conformists and consumers, albeit with superb hand-eye coordination.

In other words, I’m a killjoy. And a cheapskate. And I don't want to buy this crap.

Yet, upon his cousins’ arrival, in something like 5.2 seconds flat, my 6-year-old boy had kiddy catnip in his hands, a Nintendo controller. Cords are connected. He is gone, digitally pried from a carefully crafted upbringing of gratuitous nonviolence and shoved into a world of haptic peripherals, accelerometers and gyroscopics.

This is a boy hitherto fascinated with the finer things of the natural world, like fishies and cows and trees and frogs. He's a boy who proselytizes the super coolness of choo-choo trains and fire engines and the real or imagined belching capacity of even-toed ungulates. 

He likes the sound of the banjo. 

He plays chess with the patience of Buddha. 

For goodness sakes, he composts!

But by the end of his cousins’ two-day stay, he was toggling between talking wildly about some pink octopus-like blobs that he BLASTED into a BILLION pieces and whether he should get a monkey Webkinz and purchase the modular sofa expansion pack.

He'd been knocked off his main axis, in other words. That night, bleary-eyed and eerily muted, he played with his food and tried to eat the television clicker. I felt I had lost my little fellow Luddite, my little project native.

Clearly, the kid needed detox.

Or an exorcism.

“Let's take him for a ride – a long ride,” I said to his mother the following morning. There was a brief reprieve in the wicked winter weather. We headed for scenic roads, rolled down the windows and tried to get a little fresh air into his lungs.

He was strapped in back in his child seat. He was mumbling something about BANGING through a BRICK WALL with a BULLDOZER and SHOOTING up the bad guys. He was all motion and tilt, nerve ends trembling and searing like a multicore chip in a Juicy Juice mishap.

I pointed out a beautiful wild turkey crossing the road. He lobbed an imaginary hand grenade at it.

“This is going to take some work,” I said to his mother. 

I pointed to a ridgeline and told him how it was carved by a receding glacier a gazillion years ago, and his response was: “Dad, would you rather know karate or just own an Army tank with a bazooka and flamethrower?”

“This is going to take a lot of work,” I said to his mother. 

I put some Ralph Stanley on the car stereo, and our boy starts singing “Welcome to the Jungle” in his best Axel Rose.

“What are we going to do?” I said to his mother.

We threaded our way around the glorious green foothills of mighty Mount Greylock, and soon we were starving. We pulled into a farm store. The hills were alive with the sound of mooing. It was all just what the doctor ordered. We purchased some sandwiches, bundled up and ate at one of the picnic benches outside, taking in the beautiful view of apple trees and strawberry patches, all disappearing into the vanishing point. A farm cat sat down beside us and smiled. 

After eating, we walked around. At one point, we peeked into the barn where the most wonderful thing happened. Two of the big dairy cows, their back ends pointed at us, pooped simultaneously. It was a double-barreled, bovine burlesque. More than that — it was better than Nintendo.

“Cooooooooool,” my boy said, transfixed.

“That's right,” his mom said. 

“Cow poop is good for growing vegetables,” he said.

“That's right, pal,” I said, “and don't you forget it.”