I was part of a movement of "dinosaur moms" when I lived in Maryland (Astrodon Johnstoni is the Maryland state dinosaur.) Which is nothing more than this -- dinosaur moms delight in the half-feral nature of the beasties they parent, even as they whisper Shakespeare and Kierkegaard in their ears at night.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Skateboarding is not a crime; but biking is

I have been meditating on guy culture a lot lately as Jones has taken up extreme biking. Due to parental dereliction, he only just learned to ride this year, but he went straight from insisting I was trying to kill him if I let go of the seat to wanting to jump stuff.

So I've discovered this bike park called the X court, where bikes and scooters and skateboards mix comfortably in a concrete wonderland built expressly for that purpose.

I try to be catcher in the rye in places like this. I don't really want to be a presence, just be there in case he needs spotting. Occasionally there will be some other boys my son's age. Their dads will be trying to coach them. This is not about you, dads. You need to step.

At eight, Jones is definitely one of the newbies and might be considered sort of a pesky little brother, but the guys are good-natured, give him his space, offer condescending but constructive criticism. "Don't do it, little kid," they mutter to each other as they see him teetering on the perilously steep edge of the bowl. They let him flounder around in there for a while before they override his insistence that he's got this and yank him out.

My reaction to them is, of course, much more about me than about them. I ache with ambition for them, as the mother of a boy, but also as a former girl (grrrl?). I vividly remember eyeing up the adolescent boys in my trip and pondering what it would mean to throw my lot in with any of those unlikely characters.

I think about these guys, growing up in the wake of The Atlantic's declaration of "The End of Men," and wonder, seriously, how are boys doing? Their nihilism, their entitlement, their compulsive homo-baiting can send me into fits. Yet I cannot help but find them endearing, how they preen, how they risk life and limb trying to outdo each other, how disputes are settled with a "my bad" and concern is invoked with a "You good?"

I can't make out any factions, although I am constantly having to re-set my calibrations for how much body art and piercing signifies youthful high spirits versus actual malice. They all seem to be variations on the same scrawny, scruff-dog in skinny jeans; what ethnicity there might be obscured by spiked hair and the occasional protective helmet. The thing with the pants belted below the butt and the boxers in full display persists, even where you would think it would get in the way of the athleticism (an impressive level of commitment, in case you were hoping that trend was dying out). There is not one girl in the park itself, although there is a loyal triad of studiously indifferent girls at the picnic tables in the shade.

So this one kid hands me a leaflet. Calls me ma'am. It reads, in its entirety, as follows: "July 17th. Protesting. If you guys want to go to the protest be at the 51 st union hills skate park at 11:30AM and it will start at 12:00. Why are we protesting is because we are sick of us getting kicked out or getting billed for a lot of money. So what we are going to do is protest and get this law throw. If this goes throw then we have a bike park." Do you love that?

I guess the story is that there is another park, the Sk8 court, and bicycles are banned from this park. If you are there with a bike, apparently the rangers will fine you. The glaring injustice of this is clear to any kid who has "been to the mountaintop" and seen bicycles, scooters, and boards co-existing. So they have collectively decided, clearly without benefit of parental direction or spell-check, to take it to the streets. Well, good for them.

I don't know nearly enough about these parks to have an opinion on the issue at hand, but I will say this. I hope the powers-that-be recognize what they have in this ad hoc community of earnest slackers. They are like Prince Harry in Henry IV -- the first act, when he's just hanging out in the tavern with Falstaff. If you squint really hard you can almost see the king, the leader of men, that he will become. He's in there (He needs a haircut and a belt, but he's in there). It may very well be that these guy spaces, these places of cushioned danger and sanctioned subversion, these last bastions of guy culture may be what it takes to bring that out.

Obviously I think so, because you'll see me there at the x-court, dutifully outfitting my prince in helmet and pads and hiding behind a magazine as he makes his first cringe-worthy attempts at tricks and trash-talk. "The kids are alright," my former punk rock self reminds me. And yeah. They really are.

1 comment:

Heather said...

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