When you are a seven-year-old boy with pent-up energy, a wild imagination, and a desire to do nothing more than run, wrestle, and swim, summertime can be either a welcome release or a supreme frustration. For my little Jaden, unfortunately, thus far it has been the latter. No one is around. Country Squire has become a ghost town this summer, leaving Jaden alone to play with his legos for an hour in the morning and then to mope and whine for the remaining eight hours until his friends come home from day camp.
Yesterday, he was a fairly good sport all day, tagging along with me on errand after errand and rolling his eyes quietly while I sat at the computer and attempted to get a little work done under his watchful eye. Sensing his unreleased energy pulsating just under the surface, I kept checking in:
"Would you like to go for a quick bike ride?"
(Only if my friends can go.)
"Are you hungry?"
(No. I'm bored.)
"Want me to turn on the sprinkler?"
(Only if you'll play with me. Otherwise, it's boring.)
"Would you like a drink?"
(MOM. What I would LIKE is for you to PLAY with me.)
I feel for the kid; I really do. I can imagine what a drag it must be to hang out with a thirty-two-year-old woman on a shoestring budget, when all you really want to do is get muddy and poke other sticky-fingered short people with plastic swords. On our lengthy car trips to the bank, the store, the office, I brought along Jaden's portable DVD player, hoping to take his mind off of what a bummer his young life is at the moment (they're very dramatic, seven-year-olds). He wanted nothing to do with it. He also showed zero interest in his KidzBop CD's, his Happy Feet soundtrack, or, once we got back home, his online netherworlds of Webkinz and ClubPenguin.
Finally, around six o'clock, I caved. He had squeezed himself into the too-tight mold of a mini-adult all day, and enough was enough. I left my projects and tasks partially-finished, whipped up PBJ and carrots and called it dinner, and tossed the kid back in the car. We were off to have some FUN, dang it.
We wound up at Delwood Park, a cool nearby nature preserve with a scattering of bright, shiny new playground equipment all over the place. But, just as he had shunned my bright shiny offerings of DVD players and up-tempo kid-friendly pop music, Jaden shunned also these fancy-schmancy playgrounds, and instead asked me to drive all the way down to the end of the park property, and park the car by the creek. "Let's go this way, Mom," he said, blue-gray eyes alight as he gazed toward the moving water. Then, looking down at his feet to remind himself of what shoes he had chosen, he asked, "And can I get wet?" And I, the cool, selectively-permissive mom that I have become, replied, "I guess."
I rolled up my jeans and followed my little adventurer into the creek, up to the ankle, then the knee. The water was clear; I could see the bottom, and kept my gaze several paces ahead of where I knew Jaden's was, as he waded in, the chilly water reaching the bottom of his butt. We looked for snails and tadpoles, found a really gross dead fish, pretended to be on a reality show about a mother and son struggling to survive in the wilderness for months at a time. Jaden found a strand of gold plastic mardi gras beads in the water and tied them to his belt-loop; this was our "treasure", and he, in character, told me that when we finally made it out of the wilderness, he was going to sell it in order to buy us a houseboat so we could live on the creek.
Thirty minutes into our little make-believe adventure in the creek, nature called, and I watched a mischievous smirk came across Jaden's mud-smeared face. "Mom?" he asked, "Can I pee in the woods?" And I, as ever the cool, selectively-permissive mother, sighed deeply and said, "I guess."
We never did make it to any of the fancy-schmancy playgrounds. It was still somewhat light out just before nine o'clock when we made our way back to the car, my sandals sloshing and squirting and Jaden's orange shorts muddied beyond the point of no return. We were wet, chilly, and riddled with bug-bites galore, and we had to sit on sweatshirts and towels on the way home to keep from christening the car seats with creek water.
I hadn't spent a dime. There was no general admission ticket price to get in. None of the things we found to play with required batteries or access codes or password protection. We were simply at play in God's creation, and this was good, not-so-clean fun.
And as we pulled out of the park and headed back home, my kid, whose day had included ten hours of utter boredom and two and a half hours in paradise, said to me, "Mom, I loved this day."