Once, in a surge of creative frugality, my father crafted a toboggan out of sheet metal secured to a wooden frame, which he carted along with my mother and all five of us kids to a hill near Ann Arbor.
Like a scene out of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, the toboggan’s slick undersides gave us a wild ride that could well have reached freeway speeds with my father at the helm, his glasses looking like two protruding marshmallows from the snowy blowback by the time we reached bottom.
The details of our lightning-quick ride have had a long life, one that gets hauled out for retelling at holiday dinners like a greeting card from the past.
My dad, an artist who loved classic architecture, downtown movie houses, and the DIA, was an absent-minded professor at home, much to our constant amusement.
Lucky for us, he knew how to have fun.
This, the 12th month, may be the year’s most playful. Try getting a returned email as the calendar squares march toward Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve.
December is the bridge between one year and the next, “the rest between two notes,” as the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote. This is the month to be a “child of wonder,” even if you’re an adult.
One way to do that: Spend time with children. I watched recently as a mother took a seat with her young son on the main floor of Orchestra Hall, her protective pride evident as she settled him in for the performance and her own pleasure of being witness to his discovery.
A few days later, at Small Plates restaurant downtown, my husband and I spied a young girl dressed up in a velvet coat accented with a satin bow as she sipped milk through a straw before a performance by the New York City Ballet at the Detroit Opera House.
And in the Sunday-morning crowd at the Café Con Leche del Este, a pop-up coffee shop in Lafayette Park, a toddler boy clutched a Matchbox car in one small hand and a Star Wars Pez in the other while adults around him sipped Mexican-style hot chocolate.
Children are our gift to the world, our own dress-up dolls with buckle shoes, flouncy dresses, bow ties, combed hair, and miniature athletic shoes. They’re boxes of hope and expectation all tied up with a bow for the future of humanity.
We usher them along, showing them the world, all the while longing for our own childhood gone, for the hovering shelter of someone bigger than we are.
That might explain the fun of playing among downtown’s tall buildings, where we can feel small, dwarfed by our older, wiser architecture, where we’re compelled to look up in admiration once again.