Driving the through the countryside, taking the back roads to the NC Zoo in Asheboro, we saw lots of "real" North Carolina:
Churches. Lots of churches. Red brick, white steeples. The farther away from the cities, the more involved the names (e.g. "Liberty Holy Church of God of Prophecy"). They give you the sense that there might still be organizations in the world without a website.
Cows, feed stores, fields – all the truly agrarian stuff, looking rougher and less pastoral than you might expect. A repeated pattern spreads across the land: pasture, fallow field, church, feed store, pasture, pasture, church, pasture, church, church, convenience store, church, pasture.
Falling down buildings mixed in with brand-new buildings. Kinda scary in a way, to see something that used to be functional just falling apart in a ghostly fashion. Makes you think about doomsday scenarios, society falling apart, Mad Max sorts of things.
But the sun was coming up over the trees, and the light was beautiful, and I felt quite happy and peaceful, with nothing to worry about that day except seeing the kids at the zoo. (Of course, that evening I talk with my wife about find a church to baptize our soon-to-be-born son, and lots of stresses and fears returned . . . And Tara emailed me about getting the Woodland Shop computer put together, which I had totally blocked out of my consciousness . . . But for once in my life, I actually literally forgot about that stuff and just spent time with my kids.
At the zoo, I felt myself melting in with the rest of the people there. I was just another parent with their kids. For so much of my life I've carried around a feeling of specialness, apartness . . . "I'm not like them", "I'm better than them." I could feel that softening, disintegrating. I am really not much different than any of these people.
And yet . . . I saw a man telling a woman, "All I ask you to do is to keep them with you and out of trouble," sounding calm and rational and like he's never, ever actually had to take care of children. The woman seizes a child, whacks him on the bottom several times, her face vicious: "Don't you walk away! Ever! We'll do this old-school!" Then, later, on the tram behind us, she tells her son: "You stop crying right now! It's because you don't listen to Uncle Tom." Ah . . . "Uncle" Tom. The boyfriend. And mom's beating on the kids because she's terrified the children will drive away her man. Evidently step-parenthood is contagious.
The kids had the most fun on the playground. It was a good one, with really squishy half-artificial mulch that had almost enough spring in it to feel like a trampoline. The play-sets were done in an elegant garden theme: knobbled squash big enough to climb on, twenty-foot-tall spider web, a praying mantis just begging to be ridden. The boys played so hard they eventually shed their coats and sweaters, charging up slides and hanging from giant vines with goofy grins on their faces. You can surround them with marvels, but they will still take the most joy in moving around and climbing.
They wore me out. For the first time, I'm the one who was tired and cranky at the end of the day, while they kept on rushing from one exhibit to the next. At the last stop, the Aviary, I succumbed and sat on a bench, telling them I needed to rest for a bit, and letting them roam on their own. I felt so old, more like Grandpa than Daddy. But I can't sit for long. "That parrot can bite. Don't try to touch him . . ."