Friday, March 12, 2010

The Green Horse

All of the sudden, spring has come to our family schedule. We've gone from one or two after-school events per week to a full assortment of them every day, with all the pleasures and the pressures. Mostly I like living with teenagers, except that a mother's hug no longer fixes everything.

I used to be the kind of mother who would put money in every little mechanical horse or merry-go-round we passed; in fact I frequented one grocery store because it had a mechanical horse in front to reward the toddler who could put up with sitting in the cart for long enough for me to make a quick sweep through the store.

Now I don't notice the rides in front of stores anymore; I don't have to. I can walk around like all the other busy, busy, busy adults with my blinders on and my thoughts on other things than the errands I'm running by myself. Now I feel nostalgic about the days when I was always trying to placate my companion on an errand, like in this poem by Bin Ramke, The Green Horse:

Who could be smaller than this child
on the four-horse carousel which plays
the Washington Post March
in front of the discount store?
He cares. His father
counts the time lost more than the quarter.

The child refuses distraction.
He holds tightly and watches
the neck of the yellow horse
while riding the red
in a kind of kept time.

We remember wanting to ride
in front of the supermarkets,
we all look at the child
for an embarrassed moment before
pushing the revolving door. We look
to see if he is there when we come out again.

He cannot be there. No father
will put more than two quarters in,
too much pain. I have never seen
more than two children at one time
on a four-horse carousel. I have never seen

the money removed.
What would it be like to see someone
across the room at a party,
to call out "We met once
twenty years ago,
in front of K-Mart, I was on
the blue horse, you were on the green." To call out.

I've always puzzled over the line "too much pain." Certainly it was always a pain to get the child off the horse. Nobody would ever put a second coin in because that would give the child the idea that it could happen, that if he refused to get off and made loud noises for long enough, he'd get another ride. There was so often pain on both sides around a ride like that. There was the pain of the child who didn't get to ride at all, and the pain of the child who only got one ride. There was the pain of the child who got on and then the parent discovered that the ride was broken. There was the pain of the parent who had to tell the child the ride was broken, or who didn't have the right kind of coin or enough time to stop.

Now I notice the pain of the child who makes no noise, who shuts himself away in his room, who does all her homework in a haze of exhaustion and then tries to exercise but has to stop because she didn't realize how dehydrated she was. I notice, but the power to fix it is no longer in my hands, these hands that used to bring yellow, red, green and blue horses to life.


FreshHell said...

I rarely had quarters in those days. Dusty rode a mechanical horse once but found its jerky slowness disappointing so she never asked again. Red's never shown an interest. Then again, we're not often at stores that have them. They are looked at as "baby" rides now.

I read that pain line to mean financial pain - the waste of good quarters on a 2 minute ride. But that might say more about me than anything.

Valerie said...

I don't even notice those rides any more, but reading this I remember that two of my boys really liked them. The pain usually came when I said yes, but the ride was broken. Later today, when I go to Ben Franklin, I will make sure to look for the rides that Will liked so much.

readersguide said...

Ugh. There is pain and then there is pain. As you point out. There is the pain of the one who is away but does not sound quite right -- something is up, but should I pester or let her be? I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Ugh. There is pain and then there is pain. As you point out. There is the pain of the one who is away but does not sound quite right -- something is up, but should I pester or let her be? I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Am I a bad mother if my Ds still notice these rides?


Jeanne said...

Freshhell, the horse at the grocery store cost a penny. A lot of the ones around here cost a dime; only the big one in front of K-Mart cost a quarter, and it was outside, so I thought it was too cold to ride much of the year.

Valerie, yeah, your credit for being omnipotent was always reduced when the ride was broken and you couldn't magically make it work.

readersguide, I'm the pestering sort. But I haven't done it as many years as you have.

Lemming, no. Ayelet Waldman would tell you there's no such thing as a bad mother, in the first place. And in the second place, what's wrong with noticing them? Your littlest one could probably still fit on some of them.

Jeanne said...

Check out Elizabeth's response to this at her blog: