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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.

Joshua Hoover / 2012-05-04 21:32:

I LOVE this post! So many quotable lines and a great observation. I wasn't in near the conditions you were in but I too wandered far and wide in a city of about 300,000 at the time. Not big but not a stranger to acts of violence and other crimes. Today my kids grow up in a relatively much safer area of the United States and my wife and I don't let them out of our sight for more than a few seconds it seems. Why is this? I don't know. My hunch is it's harming our kids more than we probably think.

Roberto Alsina / 2012-05-05 03:11:

My city was about the same size. About whether we are hurting them or not... who knows. I have this feeling there must be an unknown statistic somewhere like "10% of all children born healthy between 1967 and 1975 were maimed by wildebeests".

Emiliano / 2012-05-05 23:32:

Me encanta la descripción que hiciste. Me siento identificado.
Por lo que veo yo tengo una década menos que vos, sin embargo todo era muy parecido a lo que contás. Por ejemplo, yo venía a SFe desde un pueblo (Tostado) en colectivo cuando tenía 8. Mis viejos me llevaban hasta la terminal y acá me esperaba mi abuela. Allá el pueblo era mio. Con mis amigos y hermano hacíamos cosas como las que vos contás, también es cierto que en los pueblos el tiempo pasa más lento, pero recuerdo que acá en SFe las cosas no eran muy distintas, nos la pasabamos yendo a las distintas casas de videojuegos -cosa que allá en el norte escaseaba (ni una sola hasta el 92 o 93)- camiando desde una punta a la otra o tomando coles.
En fin, cuándo cambió ? Será que hay pibes que hacen algo parecido a lo que hacíamos?

María Amalia / 2012-06-29 06:35:

Dos cosas: 1- Yo sé la historia de esa casa baleada, haceme acordar que te la cuente; 2- Mamá me reconoció que eran unos inconscientes una vez que charlando con ella le comenté las mismas inquietudes que tenés vos ahora.


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