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Release the Children

by Hannah Binder

Point Blank Perspective is a blog addressing common places, events, and experiences that we encounter in life.  These are described in a column-style with a blunt and one hundred percent upfront attitude.

If I’m being honest with myself, my bucket list isn’t as thorough as it should be. I don’t have much on the fluctuating list I keep in my head and not on a piece of craft paper decorated with glitter and Michaels art supplies and stickers, as movies have taught me to do. What is on there is added in moments of haste enjoyment and swiftly forgotten at the end of the activity encouraging me to add it in the first place. If I was as dedicatedly organized at creating my bucket list as I am in so many other areas of my life, then perhaps I would have made sure to include ‘attend a festival in a town with a population under 8,000’. If I had grown up in a small town then I have no doubt it never would have occurred to me that this item was bucket list-worthy. But seeing as my high school could have made up half the town I now live in, it was something of a shocking experience.

The absence of any traffic cops was the first thing that made me cock my head to the side. The festival ran for about ten hours. Yet, a singular traffic cop didn’t appear until about eight hours into it. Granted, only one street was blocked off and maybe it’s the clean air that increases common sense but the citizens actually managed to control their own traffic almost until the end of the day. Food for thought, big cities. 

When I saw the Kids Run listed on the brochure agenda, I thought surely they didn’t mean exclusively kids. This would be a quick walk up to the stop sign–still in sight of the main festival area–and back, all while holding a hand of a parent or guardian present. Sure, this wouldn’t really be a run, but more of a contest to see which parents were in the best shape to keep up with their kids on the 50 yard stretch. That was not the definition demonstrated for a paranoid citizen such as myself that day.

The Kids Run was one mile long, past the stop sign and over the hill and down the street–out of view!–and back, and they ran it alone. Alarms were pinging off in true form to my city mentality. No one will let these kids do this, I thought, where are the fences, blocking off a running area for them? Where were the radio check-ins at each quarter mile (or tenth if conducted in an especially urban area)? There was none of this but a rather rough instructional period of ‘run down and back! Ready, go!’ And the parents trusted their children, most of them too little to wash their hands by themselves, to come back to the start and finish line of a few orange cones. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were no chaperones running in the race with the kids, not one.  I could just see the helicopter moms of my youth standing here, all gripping their babies’ hands while they force fed them avocados and wasabi peas–healthy fats for the big race–only to learn that the city did not provide a guided exercise course as strictly monitored as the private tutoring they paid for three times a week. Among them, there might have been one parent, the outcast of the group, who’d let their kid run in this race, and all the other moms would shun her from the brunch they’d planned for after ‘the kids had their fun’.

Following the Kids Run, a mind-blowing experiment that proved children can handle responsibility, if given the chance (or popsicles as incentive), there was another 5k, this one for adults. In such a small town, the population that runs is much more friendly, varied, if you want to call it that.  There was no judging based on your attire or lack thereof. To my delight, there was only one matching spandex couple to be seen, and they looked quite out of place without any week-day spin-classers, or Lululemon enthusiasts to dominate the race with them.

One athlete was a 100 year old woman (a rough estimate) who’d surely powered up with prunes and plenty of Ensure and her vitamins for joint health prior to this. The entire town cheered her on, they even all knew her name which was especially heartwarming and convinced me that she’d probably been living here since running to and from places was the only option, none of these fancy vehicles with their cupholders and seat heaters. Back in her day, anything classified as something that heated your seat would have been considered unseemly and quite the opposite of a sign of luxury and wealth. She wasn’t really running, the movement was best described as a putter but she was moving. Personally, I didn’t see her finish the race but I’m sure she made it. I’m sure.

What’s more, the races were free–a concept I’m still attempting to acclimate to. Outdoor exercise is so rare here that charging a fee for it doesn’t cross a single mind. I know this because I run outside all summer and, every day, pass drivers that look at me with extreme distaste and confusion, as if they’re worried this stint of exertion might be what’s really causing global warming–all that huffing and puffing outside can’t be good for you, and while we’re at it, it can’t be good for the environment; I’ll stick to my 30 minutes of water exercise class social hour, thank you very much.

Since the festival was hosted in New England, there were at least ten vendors selling something made of wood and they all claimed to have found better trees with which to make their custom jewelry boxes or coasters or wall decorations. A year ago I would have laughed at this because, really, how many different trees can there be to find? The craftsmen must have stumbled into one another while simultaneously searching for the tree branch that yearned to be turned into a bedside table clock in the shape of a cat face, it’s leaves saying ‘yes, chop me off! I am meant for suburban life, actually,’. Outside of Maine, where I have yet to be convinced that lumberjacks have cause to complain about development ruining their industry, this would probably still be my attitude.

Since I don’t possess much knowledge of such tree searching, or wood carving I lingered too long at one of these booths while looking equally awestruck and bewildered at how someone managed to carve pieces of wood the size of toothpicks to look like an apple tree. I was roped in and educated, thoroughly. I should have known better though, since a similar experience happened to me at a Kettle corn stand at another festival in the year. That being said, now that I have been lured in by two quite different tradesmen, I can assure you that the woodworkers are far more detailed in their explanation, going so far as to sometimes include their personal stories in the history of the industry.

Back to the children. They recovered from their solitary run and by the evening time, were ready to be plopped on a wheeled mattress and sent down the street at top speed, propelled by their competitive brothers and sisters. This final event would have been the end of the protective parents of my friends growing up. They would have handed off their the ‘Home is Where the Heart is’ cedar plank carving they’d purchased at the wood booths–paying extra to cut the craftsman’s story short–to the nearest nanny and whipped out their smartphones to report this atrocity to their closest friends on facebook. #childabuse #can’tbelievewhatwe’vecometo #parentingfirst #thinkofthekids #notmykid #tempuredicsareforsleeping #lovemytempurpedic #lovemykids #i’magoodparent #summer2018 #realvacations #notthis #didtheyreallyrunamile? #shunSharry #themomwholethersonrun #noveganeggsaladforyou

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