The spiral-patterned seat invites me to plunk myself down, and I grab the plastic handles. I yank hard on the sturdy center post, and the motion swings me around in a circle. Legs crossed, elbows poking outward, I spin around the center. This is childhood.
The day I exceeded the recommended weight limit was a day to grieve. A day to resent my younger sister, who wasn't even old enough to understand how the toy worked. "Sit on the seat," I directed. "Pull hard." She leaned backwards, her long blonde hair touching the ground, as her body sat motionless, going nowhere. I said only, "You're doing it wrong."
Back then, "Happy Days" -- with its spinning record intro -- lit up most households with 1950s sit-com antics. "Sit on it," I heard them call to each other, and while I knew this command was a great insult, I had no idea why. "Sit on what?" I wondered but didn't dare ask.
Adult ideas, planted in my head by the careless Seventies, took years to flourish. A girl of words and musings, I shirked the body: it was just flesh and bone spinning around the central core of my personality. I'd stare into my own eyes in the mirror for long moments until I felt my consciousness floating free of the flesh. Like saying a word over and over -- try it with "banana" -- my body lost its meaning. How beautiful my slate-blue eyes, my softly curling gold mane, my slightly parted bee-stung lips became in those moments.
In the awkward, aching in-between times -- longing after the class clown, wondering if it mattered that I couldn't figure out how to wear the trappings of femininity -- I would have gladly bypassed adolescence. I would have zipped ahead, gladly, to that moment in college where I discovered that I really didn't mind wearing dresses, because in college, no one made me wear nylons. I would have fast-forwarded past the times when I tried -- and failed -- to fit in, when I laughed without getting the dirty joke, when I thought to myself, after my first French kiss, "It feels like a worm in my mouth. Does anyone like this?"
I was Alice in Wonderland (eminently more true before I changed the spelling of my name in college): bumbling through bewildering new experiences, questioning everything. Half girl, half adult, at times I was too big; at others too small. Alternately, I wanted to grow -- or shrink. Shrink down into a molecular me, drowning in a puddle of adolescent tears.
Thank goodness I was not famous. Thank goodness my acting out was not recorded on a smartphone and uploaded to Facebook for anyone to see. Or -- even worse -- broadcast in glittering color. If I had, for example, been momentarily suspended from my body-sense long enough to wear a cartoon onesie and shake my butt all over the stage, grinding on an older man while waving a foam finger lasciviously, no one would have poked fun of me on cable TV. In my day, we barely even had BBS's, let alone Twitter.
These millennial days spin us in weird directions. We adults learn to covet youth: to seek out new, expensive "toys" that will evoke those supposedly carefree days. Our wrinkles and soft spots must be ironed away with an endless parade of beauty products.
Ironically, children are shoved towards maturity: girls taught the magic of makeup, while boys are urged to play with muscular action heroes, urged to be "big and strong." The media inundates our children with adult ideas and desires that are as foreign to them as the idea of paying their own bills.
As I spin through my days as a parent, worrying about helping my son build a strong center, I contemplate screaming, like that old joke, "Stop, world. I want to get off." But everyone faces these dilemmas, reaching back to the first homo sapiens, whose cranial regions forced them into new territories, always at odds with the body, but lumbering forward anyway.