When the boys were very young we used to take them to a nearby community college during evenings and weekends. It was one of those Just Get Out of the House outings, less about the activity itself and more about, well, getting out of the damn house. The grounds were overrun with small brown rabbits; we’d try and make a game out of spotting them. When they were a bit older the boys teetered along on bikes, or maybe it was just Riley with his training wheels and Dylan still Godzilla-toddling around.
I can remember sitting in one of the courtyards while the kids played. I would stretch out on a picnic table and feel the sun on my face. The birds wheeling and calling overhead, the high-pitched laughter of my children.
Then maybe there was a lot of crying because someone fell and scraped a knee, or a frustrated, defeated retreat to the truck because someone else became inexplicably enraged about, say, the alignment of the planets. The great hassle of trying to get bikes or strollers put away, flailing children stuffed into carseats. Oh, it could all feel so exhausting and grim, back then.
I remember, quite well, how hard it was. But that’s not what my mind lingers on, when I think of those particular outings. I think of my kids running through an empty campus, thrilled with the exotic landscape of steps to be jumped and railings to be climbed. Their wide-open faces, the starfish-clutch of a small hand. The sun, the birds, the little rabbits that let you get so close.
I wish I’d known, during those sometimes-grueling early years, that it was perfectly okay not to enjoy every moment. That it wasn’t true that someday I would give anything to turn back the clock. That even the toughest days would be sent across the years like letters in a bottle, and when I opened them, I could read and re-read the very best parts.
A while ago, I gave both boys a container of Silly Putty. Riley was only briefly interested in what I remember as being the sole entertaining aspect of Silly Putty — pressing it into the comics page so you have a rubberized Garfield that you can stretch into nightmarish Videodrome proportions — but Dylan was super fascinated with his glow-in-the-dark putty-egg and quickly squirreled it away into his bedroom.
Within a day, he had:
• Smashed the putty into every part of his bed, including his pillows, blankets, and sheets, leaving behind swaths of neon green plastic residue that has thus far resisted my every attempt at removal
• Stuck it on his wall, where it slowly oozed downward until it took on the appearance of a hawked loogie
• Plastered it on the bathroom mirror at a height which implied he’d had to climb onto the counter just to find the most inconvenient placement
• Crushed it into a chair cushion in the living room
And for his grand finale before he received a lifelong Putty Ban:
• Smoothed it over a hot lightbulb and cheerfully observed it bubbling and hissing before his brother thankfully ratted him out
This is the kind of poor decision-making that can prompt you to search your child’s head for skull fractures, right? I’m not saying I’m going to cash in the college fund immediately, I’m just saying the package says ages 3 and up.
I’d been been lightly teasing him about his Reign of Dimethyl Siloxane Terror, until I did the following, all in one afternoon:
• Bit the inside of my cheek while eating an apple
• Bit the same painful spot again while doggedly finishing off the same apple
• Over-enthusiastically tasted a spoonful of broth that had been simmering on the stove for nearly eight hours
• While casting about for something to soothe the pain, I grabbed an ice cube and pressed it to my tongue
• Where it immediately stuck, Christmas Story style
• So I panicked and ripped it free with a horrifying Velcro noise
• Leaving me with a swollen cheek-bite; a raw and bleeding tongue; and a fabulouth lisp
Well. I’ve experienced this time and time again, but apparently I needed a very bad mouth day to be reminded there’s no age limit to bringing forth a comedy of errors with your own damnfool choices.