I live in a world that often eludes me. Helicopter parenting, for example, a condition almost required today, was absent in my youth, even in my child’s youth. My grade school, Dilworth, was about a mile away from my house. On my first day of kindergarten my mother walked with me to Dilworth. After that I was pretty much on my own, walking to and from school. There was nothing unusual about this. Social services didn’t call my mother. In fact I was on my own allot, not just going to and from school, but after school, on weekends and much of the summer.
Still, there were some rules. Half a block to the west of our house was an open field. I have no idea who owned this property, but there was no sign that there were any grownups who had any interest in it. Boards with nails in them, broken bottles, trash, weeds, these are the things that lived in this field. And so, for obvious reasons, it was off limits. “Do not play in that field,” my mother warned me sternly. And though for the most part, I was an obedient child, I did not obey this edict. I loved the field. What I loved most was the treehouse in the field. I had no idea who had built the treehouse. And to call it a “tree house” was a generous assessment. It was really just a few boards nailed together. Enough to make a sort-of floor, and a couple of crossed boards on one side – the beginnings of a wall, I suppose. It also had some “stairs” – a few boards nailed to the tree to facilitate entry. Most alluring was the distance from the treehouse to the ground – this treehouse was in a big tree, to me as a child it was many stories up. I would go there every chance I could. I never saw any one else there. It wasn’t my spot, but I had no idea whose spot it was. I was trespassing as well as breaking rules. The adrenaline rush from being so high up in a forbidden place was sweet. I felt powerfully independent, very different from the way I felt at home as the youngest of three girls who was totally awkward, didn’t talk much, and always went to bed early.
Of course my mother found out about my forays into the field. Even if I hadn’t come home with a bleeding knee, cut by a piece of glass, she would have known. She told me, “You will have a scar from this to remind you to do what you are told.” She was right. She is gone, but the scar on my knee is still there. But she wasn’t right about everything, despite what my father said. This scar doesn’t remind me to be obedient. Rather it reminds me of the sweetness of being in the tree house, of seeing the world from a higher plane, of being outside the lines of my defined life. It encourages me to keep pushing the limits if only just a bit, to keep climbing trees, and going into unkempt fields alone.
My life now is mostly defined by my profession. I am an academic, a financial economist. But I have grown weary of the manicured yard of my discipline, of the mathematics, the formulas, the theories, the certainties of knowing, the ridiculous assumptions about how people make decisions. My scar reminds me that I can go my own way, write what I want, leave the world I am expected to populate. It tells me it’s better to risk the wounds of rejection from the “academic community” than to play a safe game that isn’t who I am anymore.