Owning the Place You Grow Up

My younger daughter, 24 as of last week, came up for a flying visit on her way to a volunteer program she’s doing in upstate California next week. She’s an interesting kid (well, I’d say that anyway, wouldn’t I?) and hanging out with her is always fun. I caught her on her way out from BART (see left) and, after a little bit of administrivia (going home to feed the dog and drop her backpack) we went off to have movie popcorn and see Frozen II. Which is not as good as the first Frozen, but entertaining and sweet-tempered.

And then the kid wanted to go down to the Embarcadero in Sn Francisco and drink wine and watch the sunset. So that’s what we did. Went downtown, bought two cans of wine (honest to God, pull-top cans with a quite drinkable rose) and sat out on the Bay, talking about everything and everyone

This, apparently, the sort of thing the kid used to do a lot. But I was not there because 1) Mom, and 2) kid had other friends who were more appropriate for her to drink and hang out with. But today this was a thing she really wanted to do. So we sat in the increasing chill (January, sit-ing by the Bay, at sunset? Cold, yes.)

Then we went to a Burmese restaurant in the Mission and ate huge quantities of very tasty Burmese food.

Why am I telling you all this? Because my daughter is close to being a San Francisco native, and while I was setting up a home and doing some writing and getting a job and doing all that stuff, she was settling in and getting to know parts of the city I never did. This was the first time I sat by the Bay and watched the sun set (with to without a can of rosé). She knows parts of the city I have never experienced.

When I was a kid, there were rules about the subway (I was not to ride them unless accompanied by an adult) and buses (only the Authorized lines). I was only supposed to play on my block–intil I got old enough to be trusted to cross Sixth Avenue (and even then the grocer occasionally called my mother to make sure I hadn’t gone off the reservation in some hazardous way). I grew up with a powerful sense of how important it is for a kid to own the place where they live. So there were rules my kids had to follow but–following the rules I had been given as a kid–there was a lot of latitude about how strictly I followed them.

And I never got the opportunity to show my parents the places I discovered when I was kinda-sorta following the rules. My kid has, however, and I’m the better for it, as much as she is.


About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


Owning the Place You Grow Up — 6 Comments

  1. I owned the place where I grew up. But it’s changed so much that what I knew barely exists anymore. When I was a kid it was a sleepy place with less than 300 people (and we didn’t even live in town); now it’s a suburb with 35,000 and a wine bar halfway between the Friends and Baptist churches.

    I’ll have to ask my nephew how he feels about Manhattan.

    • The weird thing for me about going back to Oxford (where I grew up) is that half of it has literally not changed in the forty years since I left (because it’s mediaeval and you can’t touch it), while the other half is wholly unrecognisable. Some streets, I can look one way and it’s wholly familiar, look the other way and I don’t even know what city I’m in.

  2. It’s one of the unintended consequences of the American idea of ‘vehicular cycling’ (people on bikes need to behave like people in cars, and travel in among the larger motorized traffic as if they’re the same) that kids lose that sense of knowing their surroundings.

    It means that anyone who isn’t capable of cycling fast among large and dangerous vehicles gets discouraged from cycling. Not just kids, but the elderly, people with handicaps (there are all kinds of cycling mobility aids: look up “Wheels for wellbeing” if you’re interested, or BicycleDutch’s YouTube videos about who else benefits from Dutch cycle paths), parents with young kids, anyone who doesn’t have a driving license or access to a car gets their independent mobility lessened by insisting on vehicular cycling.

    Cycling is one of the best ways for kids to get out and explore their surroundings independently, a bit further than roaming on foot can take them, but they need a safe environment to do so.
    Vehicular cyclists advising US traffic engineers from the 1960s onwards that “bike lanes are bad because they mean cyclists aren’t treated the same as car drivers” have set back the building of safe infrastructure for more vulnerable road users by decades in the US (not just for people on bikes but also people using all kinds of mobility aid; and pedestrians as well allowing car culture to take priority to such an extent that right turns on red, pavement parking, not buffering sidewalks from busy fast cars with bike lanes etc. become accepted), and strongly influenced other Anglophone countries.

    Kids don’t have the strength, speed, traffic sense and spatial awareness yet that’s needed to safely bike in traffic. Parents know it’s dangerous and won’t let their kids travel on their own to school or sports or friends in the next neighborhood.
    Researchers have shown that kids who are driven everywhere have much less of a sense of their area than kids who are allowed to roam.

    • My kids started out in New York, where public transportation is everywhere (San Francisco is a little iffier on the subject). My older daughter started going to school by herself at 11. While we were never much of a cycling family, when we moved out to San Francisco I was adamant that both girls learn to use public transportation. By the time she was twelve, my younger daughter could get all around on the bus system, which is complex but workable). Part of this is because of my native selfishness: I did not want to devolve into chauffeur for the young–sometimes it’s unavoidable, but most of the time, no. Part of it is because of my strong memory of the power that it gave me, as a kid, to venture across the street, or to school, or uptown to go ice skating, on my own. These days, even without my phone maps, drop me in a city somewhere and I have a good chance of getting my bearings because I have a sense of how cities are built, and that I put squarely on having been a free-range kid in a city.

  3. What I needed when I went to Melbourne a bit unexpectedly at the start of the year was home. For my mother and myself it was food. I was in the right place (for I grew up in Melbourne) but 7/8 of my family was refugee and I think that developed an extra set of needs at certain times. My cousin (who was a Shoah refugee – came to Australia in 1938) taught me that home could be brought by one item in a suitcase. My mother taught me food. I still feel a lovely sense of belonging when I go to my old haunts, but when I want that emotional moment your daughter gave you it’s always through food or through items that can be put in suitcases.