The New Normal

Walking to school, I always passed by a house full of bullet holes. That was, if memory serves, the corner of Marcial Candioti and Ituzaingó. I never knew why that house was full of bullet holes. The window shades were always down, and noone ever explained it to me. It was not a long walk, just 4 blocks, from home to to the Mariano Moreno school.

I was curious about that house, since I was 7, and curiosity is the natural state of seven-year-olds everywhere, and there were not many houses like that (number of houses with bullet holes I've seen since: 0). Of note is that this was 1977, an interesting year where there were about 600 bombings in Argentina, and there was a rampant dictatorship killing and kidnapping seemingly at random.

And I was walking to school, alone. And that was not strange for me. I had been moving around in the city by myself for years. I used to go from home to art classes by city bus when I was 5. Yes, I was taking city buses, alone, into the city downtown, in Argentina, while a dictatorship kicked out a president. So I could attend puppetry workshop.

My mother was a school principal in the worst slum imaginable. I was 4 and was under the watchful eye of the school cook and keepers. Which means that if they had to go buy something, I went with them, I played in the yards, I got lice every day, and parasites at least once.

My father used to make my brother sleep when he was a baby by putting him on the right seat of his car and driving through the night. And I don't mean "putting him in a seat" as in a safety seat, he was swaddled in a blanket, placed on a seat, no seatbelts, while my sleepy father drove through the night.

I used to spend the summers, when I was about 8, in a place where the expected activities were starting fires, building bows, pissing competitions, pinning crickets into boards, climbing 30 feet tall trees, eating random fruits from suspect bushes, fishing moribund bats from the swimming pool and trying to nurse them to health in pea cans, poking wasp nests, hunting toads, escaping to wander sand roads without telling anyone. One whole summer, we could see through the bus window a dead horse rotting in a ditch a few minutes before arriving. We washed our utensils with dirt. We drank well water from hoses. We carved wood using knives. We digged pits using shovels.

When I was about twelve, I roamed the Buenos Aires downtown at night, bought teather tickets, attended the shows alone, rode the subway, got lost a lot, visited gaming arcades, ate pizza standing up, disappeared from morning to midnight.

I was remembering these things last night, talking with my wife about my son, who just turned five a few weeks ago, and I walk to school every morning. His school is roughly 3 blocks from home, in a nice neighborhood. The sole idea of him walking to school alone is unthinkable. How old should he be before he can walk to school? How old must he be before he can cross the street to buy candy. How old before he needs his own money, before he has a key to the house, before he can go to the park to play alone, before he can visit a friend down the street alone, before he can go to the toilet in public places alone.

I have no idea. The experience of having been 5 in 1976 doesn't help me know what being 5 in 2012 is like, I am at a loss, I am a foreigner from a different place, where our children fought wolves with their bare hands. I am not prepared for this. Either that or my parents were completely insane.


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