Not Allowed

  • Maida Korte

“I’m not crazy — I’ve just been in a very bad mood for 40 years.”
                (Ouiser Boudreaux, Steel Magnolias)

            We all put up fences that attribute to our daily behavior.  Today I’m going to write 1000 words, design a home office for a client, decide whether or not I will cook tonight, and call as many of my daughters as possible.  What I am not going to do are a multitude of things immeasurable.  I do have a ‘maybe’ list in my head which today includes calling my sister, continuing research on several essay topics and dedicating myself once again to limit my carb intake.  The fences come in when I make a choice to do this and not do that, though most of these decisions are formed by early boundaries set in our child-hood.

            Growing up in Wheaton meant playing outside with friends basically unsupervised.  I would head over to a neighbor’s house at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning with the expectation that this was a reasonable time to gather friends, not knowing exactly what we would do, so making it up as we went.  If a friend came over to my house we were expected to figure out our own play and so we did.   My brothers were always doing something army or playing baseball until it was too cold.  The secret code of boyhood meant riding bikes to a baseball diamond where they would play all day, or hiking in the cold to a frozen stream to slam electrical taped pucks at each other with hockey sticks or setting up army men all over the living room which took most of the day, ending with a war of bombardment that lasted a few minutes.    

My sister Jenny and I had a pair of sisters whom we shared as friends, Sue and Ann.  Ann would come over to our house on the heels of her big sister and play with Jenny while Sue and I made elaborate and detailed plans.  Sue and I were three years older and we had big girl things to do pretending to be school teachers or putting on shows or setting up obstacle courses using found wood planks or planning a magic show that would earn us loads of cash or talking my mom into letting us bake pies.  Jenny and Ann mostly played in the garage where they tooled around with bikes and thought up forbidden scenarios which prompted a loud shout every so often of “NOT ALLOWED,” which apparently summed up their five year old world view.  Their list of forbidden activities included burping loudly, not sharing, blurting out in class, running instead of walking, not drinking full glasses of milk and not liking what they were told to wear.  So, the scintillating nature of pretending to do these things, and then the pronouncement of “NOT ALLOWED” which of course ended in raucous laughter became a punctuation mark in our childhood folk-lore.

Daily conduct is beset with boundaries that are self-imposed.  This can be described as a communal gathering of ethics and a good sense upbringing or origin causing us to reflect back on our early years.  Common denominators we all agree on could be telling the truth, not taking something that is not yours, playing nice, not hitting-biting-pinching, sharing, learning and studying with an innate longing to get bigger and grow up where we make our own rules.  Then suddenly one day we are bigger and we adopt these same rules for ourselves making only minor adjustments.  The older we get our list of what we can’t do, or won’t do, or shouldn’t do, is replaced with positive items of our own choosing. The “I can’t” becomes “I can and I will.”   Our self-erected fences surround our patterns of daily living where we corral our hopes of accomplishment rather than the desire to keep out the negative. In order to have any hope of fulfilling tasks or reaching goals we make selections since we cannot today study the history of the world.  We must narrow our field of vision and produce a subsidiary list that leads down a road to future accomplishment. 

Andy is puttering in the garage today.  A life-time of tools, telling the story of a career launched when he was a younger man, are strewn across temporary tables.  I walk towards him and ask him what he is doing.  He responds, “Man stuff,” and he glances up smiling at me.  We indulge each other special rules that do not require explaining. Rather than hold me enraptured with tales of a very particular wrench or a singularly important drill, or a hand-held sanding device that pokes into crevices, or why vices are misunderstood, or even how he believes you can tell a man by his boots, Andy prefers today to bundle it all together into a phrase reserved for just such moments.  We allow ourselves an esoteric language of love that we speak fluently.  I leave the garage laughing and remember a similar sound from a garage years ago. 

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