I should have taken it as a sign when we had to run back in for jackets, or when we had trouble extricating my vintage cruiser from the over-stuffed garage, or at the very least, when we suffered a minor accident just a few yards from home.
The evening had called for ice cream, plain and simple.
But ten minutes later, as we careened down narrow sidewalks of the city’s busiest street, I wondered what on earth I had been thinking. There were active railroad tracks to contend with, and the crosswalk light at the corner of Pike Street was glitching. Was I better off with the kids in front of me, in my direct line of vision? Or behind me, where I could buffer them from making a mistake?
I was nervous as a rooster, barking orders, trying to remain calm. We rode past gas stations, fast food restaurants, used car lots, and the ubiquitous Walgreens.
“How did this happen?” I wondered, the wind in my face. Dairy Queen had never felt less worth it.
I was raised by stretches of green and a wide yawning sky. My wild was sticky afternoons with no where to go, drippy orange push-up pops, and forest moss beneath my sneakers. We tended carrot seedlings in a secret garden, crafted make-shift slip-and-slides, and swam in giant plastic trash cans. I never once played with a neighbor because there was no neighbor. So I hid in the forsythia with my brother and caught craw-dads in the creek instead.
It hit me hard — my kids will grow up believing cross-walks and city streets are ordinary. This is the wild that will raise them.
We ate our cones, then rode back home, steering around broken beer bottles on streets most people avoid, the scent of lost hope thick in the air around us. There were men huddled around a car with its hood propped up, bass thumping. There were lonely women eyeing us warily from their porches. There were children smiling, on tricked-out bicycles of their own.
I’m a collector of the discarded and the worn.
I’ve paid cash for five defunct sprinklers because they’re quirky and I’m fond of their rust. I don’t mind taking the quilt that’s fraying at the edges — I prefer it, in fact. The flower pot is chipped? Hand it over. The knob is broken? Sure, because it tells a story.
I’ve chosen to decorate my life with things someone else has rejected. Things that aren’t done living, things that can be bought for a song. They still have something to offer, and maybe I can provide the context to prove it.
Why is it so different with people?
My instinct is to back slowly away from the broken and the hurting. I want to look away. To hide. To pretend life could always be what it was when I was eleven.
I used to think God gave me a unique heart made to love tattered, discarded things. Only now do I see the incompleteness of that belief.
I am called to love broken people. Loving broken things is just a hobby.
My childhood was a dream. It shaped me. I find no fault with it and I’ll always thank my lucky stars. But my kids were called someplace different.
My hope is that the places that still trip me up and make my heart lurch will become their ordinary wild.
My prayer is that they’ll walk with ease to their neighbor’s table and notice early the way shards of amber glass can catch the light.