“Lake Shore Drive: Lower school” is the first episode of a series on the myth of coming of age.
A quick math on the back of the envelope implies that I’ve crossed Lake Shore Drive at least 6,000 times in this lifetime, maybe more, all in the name of K-12 education. Encoded in the ridges and potholes of Chicago asphalt is a certain percentage of my life. And certainly, there are stories from before I entered kindergarten, as I often went to school with my parents to pick up my older sister. Then the first day of school arrived: September 8, 2006. Step into a world of possibilities at Francis W. Parker School, where we do “everything to help” and “nothing to hinder”. After a literal step into Mrs. Judd’s classroom, I found two strangers named Thomas and Etienne near the southeast window. I sat there for hours, quietly playing Barrel of Monkeys with them, far too scared to approach anyone else.
This first image signifies the beginning of my growth process, and now I find myself as a student, dangerously close to considering where I will take my life next. Adolescence is prolonged in modern civilization, and in some cultures it is very possible that I can live alone with a wife and children. But instead, I limited my biological imperative to studying computer science and developing a network of lifelong contacts and experiences. Later this year, I will complete my 20th year of life, and it amazes me. Of course, the arrow of time advances, but am I growing? What does that mean? Is “growing up” merely an innuendo to become mature and hardened by the world? Hardened to stoically navigate the “hardships” of First World life, propagate the human species, and bring talents to society before tipping over and kicking the bucket?
Every once in a while, I study this photo of me and my sister smiling on the front steps before getting ready to get into the massive titanium gray Volvo XC60 down Lake Shore Drive on the first day of school. September 8, 2006. In this memory, with my baby blue plaid shirt, dark cargo pants, and a tiny “Transformers” backpack that was probably empty if not filled with Hot Wheels cars, it looked like the soles of my shoes could barely gripping the concrete and like I was seconds away from levitating off the ground. And that’s what haunts me – the lightness of childhood and the rawness that has faded over the years. It doesn’t matter if a person initially wants to be a pilot, an astronaut, or a NASCAR actor – apparently – because those aspirations are replaced by a pragmatic, pressured view dictated by schoolwork whose immediate meaning is distant and whose work is useful to no one. . Just because this pattern is so prevalent doesn’t mean any of us shouldn’t accept it if there’s a legitimate reason to take another route.
Now, in my freshman year as a student, it’s become more apparent that I’m leaving behind who I was, and I’m not sure who I am. Not that I could recognize my past either: a normal kid who dreamed endlessly of watching “SpongeBob”, playing on the Wii, and discovering new Christmas music on 93.3 FM each holiday season. Now I’m a curmudgeon who only occasionally dreams of the forests of the Pacific Northwest, the Riemann Hypothesis, and that girl I never asked to prom.
It pains me to wonder if anything could have been done to save this boy from being ruined by the world. But at least there was that time to savor before I was socialized to suppress my dreams and act and speak based on who I’m meant to be rather than who I want to be. Every little dive into Lake Shore Drive provides a snapshot of how I broke apart at the seams, a game by game of how a self-assured child lost all perceptions of humanity and the universe which has been broken over a long series of accounts. Some call it growing up. Where did it all go? My analytical mind takes into account the laws of conservation. My childhood has to be somewhere, right? There must be the very atoms responsible for my childhood. Where are they?
Eventually, I grew up enough to recognize the irony that Chicagoans sometimes abbreviate Lake Shore Drive to the acronym it shares with acid, a hallucinogenic drug, because it’s a trip you have to be sober. You have a straight with a long inward curve that we better buy an AWD car for, followed by another straight that leads into the streets of Circle Drive just past the entrance to the school. Of course, theory is always easier than practice. No one taught me how to navigate slippery black ice or repaint the car after it was scratched by municipal rock salt.
Sometimes all we could do was stay home to stay safe, like January 31, 2011. My family was lucky enough to get back to the neighborhood before the blizzard kicked in the uppercut. Local television was littered with “Day After Tomorrow” type images of Lake Shore Drive’s disarray: abandoned cars trapped under towering snowdrifts and unlucky Chicagoans starting to shovel to safety after 12 hours of hard toil with rear-wheel drive and “all-season” tires. They thought they’d seen the worst, but they hadn’t. Forty degrees below with the wind chill was just the warm-up. that the visibility couldn’t get worse, the moon changed her mind and left the city to rise at first light instead Class was canceled, day after day, and every time my mom got a another voicemail from Associate Director Jones, my sister and I knew that.
Of course, with the adaptations we have made to distance learning, we couldn’t do without it today. There was beauty in the snow day – a day relinquishing all the obligations it started with. Very often we have to impose periods of rest on ourselves to stay healthy, but when another force imposes it, it seems more liberating. It reminds me of the feeling of watching the waves crash against the shore of Lake Michigan. Well, on second thought, those waves were once beautiful, sure, but I’m afraid the mundanity of thousands of trips has taken away the sheer majesty of nature. Sometimes I wonder if growing up is exactly that: living a period of fascination that ends up losing its novelty before there is only one person left who has to follow the route that society offers him.