It sometimes feels like the stages of parenthood are shooting stars passing by in the blink of an eye. It seems like only yesterday going to the pool meant me tossing them around in the water. Me ferrying them across the pool underwater. Me throwing a ball to them. Me making up scary stories about sea monsters or pirates. Me competing with them to see who could hold their breathe longer under the water. It was me and them. That was it.
Those days have passed. The boys were at the pool and waterpark for a solid seven hours yesterday. I was in the pool with them for maybe 10 minutes. Today, they were there for probably six hours. I only went in the pool to cool off. They didn’t need me. They were making new friends. Making up their own new games. Having fun with their newfound friends. Enjoying being in an all-kids world.
It is a strange mix of happiness, pride, and sadness that you feel as these tectonic shifts occur. When I see Will seamlessly playing with other kids, I feel overjoyed. He struggled for so long to catch up socially that it is simply amazing to see him play with his peers now. He understands what it takes to be a good playmate. He compromises. He understands the back and forth of play. He doesn’t get upset. He doesn’t cry. He reads other kids’ social cues. He know when it is time to let things go. These are great things.
When I watch them play and interact with the other kids, I am proud of the kind of kids that they are. They are polite. There are independent and self-assured. They are fun. They are good at introducing themselves to other kids. They recruit kids to play with them. They join other kids’ games. They get along well with others. They include each other. They look out for each other.
At the same time, it hard not to miss those days where they needed more from me. Where it was just us. Where the joy on their faces was the direct effect of some action I took. Some thing that I did. Telling them a story that they found funny. Acting silly. Tossing them high in the air. Making up a new game for them. Being a part of their games.
Now that joy has a different source. It is their actions not mine. It is their game not mine. It is the new friends they made. Any influence I have on that joy is now largely an indirect effect. A reflection of the things they learned when they needed me more immediately.
The emergence of the boys’ independence brings its own new rewards. Today, it brought Will’s needlessly elaborate plan to catch some giant North Carolina ants for the ant farm his Uncle Chuck gave him. It started with him trying, ultimately ineffectually, to get the ants ravaging a piece of breakfast sausage Lucas dropped under the picnic table into a Dasani water bottle. After that failure, he recruited Lucas to help him use a bottle cap to scoop the ants up and into the bottle. That plan failed too when they discovered that giant North Carolina ants are fast and bite. Will then hit upon a plan reminiscent of Dr. Evil in terms of its needless and perplexing complexity. It involved building a multi-level stick bridge laced with grape jelly that led into the Dasani bottle, which now lay on the ground near the picnic table. The bottle was also laced with grape jelly. And, as an extra enticement, Doritos (original flavor). I am not sure that it caught it ant. Will thinks it caught two. But it definitely caught a large fly.
After grilling hamburgers and hot dogs for dinner, we built a fire for our last night at Camp Jellystone Golden Valley. We hung around the campsite most the night. Will practiced his tightrope walking skills on a small felled tree next to the tent. They boys got ice cream from the camp store. Cherry vanilla for Lucas. Tennessee Whiskey Toffee for Will. We hit the playground one last time after we picked up our laundry from the camp laundromat.
The night concluded with the boys telling more scary camping stories. Lucas is now an eager and energetic storyteller. It is funny how we are all carried along on the wave of Will’s enthusiasm for the things he loves. When Lucas came to us he was afraid of anything physical. He looked petrified when given even a couple small pushes on a swing. Being around Will has made him fearless. It has also made him a fervent contributor to our Will-induced family tradition of oral storytelling. Only acceptable genres. Thriller and horror.
Lucas’s first story tonight was about Clamhead, a Will invention, attacking our camp. We were saved in the story only by the good graces of Lucas and his friends defending us. His second story was about a blob that attacked our campsite. Will’s first story was about him being banished from camp, never to be seen again. He went avant-garde/experimental for his second campfire story.
“Guys, this is only going to be a problem story so it probably isn’t going to be that interesting.”
He then proceeded to tell us a story about a boulder that fell out of its place on a mountain, and that we needed to put back in place. No reason specified. It also included a secondary storyline about a ball that was lost at the campsite. I pray he isn’t transitioning from fright fiction to postmodern fiction.
Lucey and I teased him after the story.
“You are right that story is a problem!”
“You said it probably wouldn’t be that interesting. You were right.”
We laughed and went to bed.