From Thursday through Monday, I got to take what has long been a dream trip: I went to the Dutchess County Sheep and Wool Festival, popularly known as Rhinebeck. (For the uninitiated, this is basically a state fair, but focused on fiber animals like sheep, goats, llamas, and alpacas. There’s also an enormous fiber market scattered across the barns, which makes it a mecca for knitters, crocheters, spinners, weavers, and the like. I was there selling knitting books with the publisher that I work for, Cooperative Press.)
When my son was younger, I used to crave these longer work trips; I used to crave the chance to not have parenting on my mind every waking minute (not to mention some of the sleeping ones). This time was different. While it would have been completely inappropriate to bring my son to the fair (I was working / he has school / he would have been bored a lot of the time), I found myself wishing a lot during the trip that I could have brought him. I missed him, and I wanted him to see the cool things I was getting to see — like the border collie vs. children relay races and the llama leaping contest. And the fall leaves on the rolling hills of New York. (Pictured above is the house where I stayed with seven friends. The photo doesn’t begin to capture how intensely orange those trees were in the fading afternoon light.)
Quite a few kids tagged along with parents who came as customers to Rhinebeck, and I found myself gravitating to those kids — and particularly to the little boys who were about my son’s age. While their parents were looking at our books, I would chat these little guys up about what were the hot Halloween costumes this year, how fast we could run, how super-strong our respective upper arm muscles were, what Lego sets were best, and what it takes to dispatch a zombie.
It reminded me all over again just how much I adore boys at this age. When I was eight myself, I suddenly found that most of my friends were boys instead of girls. I just liked what most boys were doing then, and liked less what most girls were doing at that age. Let me be very clear here: I know all boys aren’t alike, and neither are all girls — I was Exhibit A for that, after all — and I know that these behaviors are learned. All of that conceded, I found that with many girls there were now secrets and intrigue and all kinds of intricate social dynamics that personally I found both baffling and boring. With most boys, the play could be complex, but the rules tended to be stated outright. The play also sometimes got too rough for my tastes, but for me it was a small price to pay for forthrightness.
As an adult, I have found both women and men who appreciate this kind of straight-up interaction. But somehow eight-year-old boys seem to have that filter-free personality in its purest form. They can be rude and artless, but when I remember that this is all borne of naive honesty, I find it utterly charming.
As one eight-year-old boy at Rhinebeck this weekend mimed for me how to cut down a zombie with a battle ax (I played the role of Zombie), his mother apologized, rolling her eyes. “Sorry,” she says, “he just doesn’t know when to stop sometimes.”
“Oh, it’s quite all right,” I said. “It’s some of the most fun I’ve had all weekend.”
“Mom, what do people look like when they’re about to kiss each other?”
“Well, like this,” and then I plant one on him.
“NO. I mean, when they’re about to kiss each other.”
“Oh, you mean like romantically?”
“I don’t know. They just look at each other kind of googly-eyed.”
“Oh, come on. Just show me.”
“Um. No. You’re my kid. Can’t do it.”
“Is it like this?” (Does his best pouty lips and rakish eyebrow waggle. I crack up.)
“Yeah, something like that. You might want to tone it down a little if you’re really going to use it, though.”