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Volume 37 Issue 20 • Sept. 6 - 12, 2007
now in our 37th season

Flying Past Their Parents

by Robert P. Barsanti

No one looks forward to September like Harry Potter.  After a magic-free summer with the Durselys, locked up in a cabinet under the stairs, Harry goes back to Hogwarts a rich and famous student with great friends, powerful enemies, and as many snack foods as his gold scimitars can buy.  As the wind cools and the Corn Moon glows, Harry rides off into a winter of magic while the Dursely’s contend with the more prosaic gray.

Excepting their cruelty, I find I have a soft spot for the Durselys.  Like them, I am submerged in my muggle-ness and am blind to the magic around me.  My world does not include flying cars, owls with messages, and Hagrid.  Moreover, I didn’t go to a school with majestic feasts, moving staircases, Quidditch, or ancient spirits to buttress the importance of my school.  I didn’t go to Smeltings either, just Stonewall High, with its gray, smelly uniforms and its classes in algebra.  What must it be like, to discover, that the foundling you have been raising for ten years is going to lead a life of magic while you get to sell drills?

I have two Harry Potters in my life and they are always upsetting apple carts and freeing Boa constrictors.  Unlike the Durselys, I won’t lock them up in the cupboard or hide them on a rocky island.   Instead, I watch them struggle with their brooms, wands, and cauldrons out in their own world of magic.

On the South Shore, I brought one of them to a Surfari.  Every day this summer, he has been at a beach, but the beach had small waves and his Papa ready and willing to carry him over the seaweed.  I zipped him into his wet suit, kissed him on the nose, and sent him off into the water.  His instructor, Christian, carried a board that needed a quarterboard and a figurehead.  With a nervous eye at the water, the boy walked in with him.

I stood on the shore with my Dursely Stopwatch of Doom.  I didn’t think he would put the wet suit on, I didn’t think he would walk into the water, I didn’t think he would paddle out with the instructor, and I didn’t think he would ride a board.  But he did.  And then, as the stopwatch kept spinning, he stood on the board and rode it in.

He rode that wave as far in as he could, then jumped off.  He ducked his head under the next wave, as his father had taught him, then he and the instructor paddled back out into the lineup.  The little boy had it all: big smile, eager chatter, goofiness, and a complete ignorance of his father on the beach.  He had found his broom and he was off.

This was yet another in a long line of firsts for the boy.  Starting with his first cry, and including first food, first steps, and first trip to the bathroom by himself, I could now place “First Time He Had Done Something His Father Had Never Done.”  I had never stood on a board, no matter how big.  Early on, I accepted body surfing as my métier, with a brief foray into boogie boards.  But I had never figured out how stand on a board on a breaking wave and hang ten.  My son could not only do that, by the end of an hour and a half, he  could walk the nose.

The Durselys woud have whisked him off the beach, locked him in a cupboard, and never mentioned the “S” word again.  Instead, I sat on the beach and watched him fly.

We came to the beach on one of the great champagne days of September, when the wind is northerly and puffs of cloud float over their own shadows in the water.  The air tasted of corn and the sand felt of October.  The ocean had slow and small lines of breakers strolling onto a nearly empty beach.  The boy rode those waves in, jumped off, and swam back out.

September is the month when they outstrip us.  In some September, a child will take that gleeful step past his father’s limits, and find himself soaring.  I had taught him to swim and to duck under the breaking waves; I had helped him feel comfortable and happy in the water.  Then he and his instructor took him out onto the nose of the surfboard and left me behind.

We all get left behind.  Our children will run faster, use the computer better, read better, write better, make better art, do higher level math, throw better blocks, and swim faster than their parents will.  As the Durselys learned, we don’t have much choice about it.  We can block the mail slot, seal up the windows, shred the letters, and flee to an island, but they will pass us.

At its best, school helps make us obsolete.  Out there in the water, my son had the perfect instructor in Christian.  He was patient, knowledgeable, and humble; he didn’t have to ride the wave, the boy did.  He had the right equipment, both in terms of the huge board and the gentle waves.  His parents had gotten the boy ready for the moment and then the moment came.  With it, the boy went much further than his father ever thought he would.

Harry Potter has “Great Expectations” as do many of our children; when they look to September and to school, they look forward to outstripping us and taking the lead.   Now, we don’t send our children to Hogwarts; even Phillips Andover and St. Paul’s can’t compare to a school run by a wizard, haunted by ghosts, and obsessed with Quidditch.  Every school, even Stonewall High, has Christians who will bring our children past the point that we thought possible and send them riding into the future.  For our part, we need to get them ready, bring them there, and then get out of their way.

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