Harrison took the reins.
My favorite part was when a minivan pulled up, after we’d been at the park for about 20 minutes with no one around, and three 4-to-6 year-old boys got out. None of them wearing shoes.
My stance on Harrison and Mara being around other kids when we are outside playing varies, but it’s foundation is pretty much set at stay away from other people right now.
There’s a couple people around the neighborhood whom I’ve gotten to know pretty well that have the same sort of political views and COVID standards that we do. In general when we see those people out I’ll let our kids play together for awhile.
We have a neighbor who’s kids are our children’s age and like to ride bikes around with Harrison and Mara. As long as they’re all doing that—not playing in the dirt together or anything—I’m fine with it. They usually don’t get too close to each other for very long when riding.
That’s about it. In general, I’m not into letting Harrison and Mara play with other stranger’s kids right now. Not with how poorly Texas has handled this pandemic from the jump, and it being maskless and ‘back open for business’ now.
So when the minivan’s sliding side door slowly rolled open and these boys jumped out barefooted, running around on the sidewalk and wood-chipped ground near the playground equipment like its nothing, I quickly looked at Harrison and Mara on the swings and said “Alright guys, it’s go time.”
They’re pretty conditioned to that happening in some fashion at this point since the pandemic started, so there were no issues getting them to exit.
As we started to walk over to the park’s open area that has little walking bridges, creeks, sticks, and big trees, I muttered something under my breath about the kids being barefooted.
Well, it must have been a little louder than just a mutter.
While we were walking in the opposite direction one of the kids yelled to Harrison and Mara, “Hey, you guys don’t want to play with us!?”
I couldn’t even gather a breath for the politely phrased version of ‘no’ I was going to throw out there in the time it took Harrison to instantly fire back “No. You guys are all barefoot. And we’re NOT here for that!”
I didn’t even try for damage control. I didn’t try to act like I was scolding him or do any phony ‘be nice disciplinary arm tugs’ to him. I didn’t try to save face with either of the adult ladies that were with them. I just laughed. For probably ten seconds. Then just shook my head for another minute or so.
It was the exact phrase I thought I had uttered softly to myself as I saw the boys hop out of the minivan.
Can’t blame my little man for copy-catting.
That one’s on me.
It turned out to be a blessing in disguise from a son to his father.
I’ve been to therapy many times in my life, for usually whatever the flavor of the week is for what’s wrong with me, but one of the constants that kept showing up over the years is I oddly always seem to worry about what strangers think about me.
I say that knowing full well it makes no sense and sounds ridiculous. But the problem has lingered for awhile.
I’ve felt myself slowly progressing to get beyond all that since the pandemic has started and have been able to spend 500% more time with my kids, but this singular moment was like a crossing of the finish line…breaking through that thick red ribbon.
Normally I’d feel obligated to apologize to the ladies, make something up about Harrison having some issues to work on, make some flimsy small talk, and secretly hope both of them liked me. Even though there’s a 99% chance I’ll never see them again or ever engage in a conversation about anything meaningful if I did.
The legitimacy of the feelings that ran through my bones at that point…to authentically not care about what the three boys or two adult ladies thought about me right then…was like a cloud being lifted.
I have Harrison’s brutal honesty to thank for that.
About a half hour later I looked over my shoulder to see Harrison with his pants down around his ankles squatting out a healthy sized poop onto the ground in one of the valleys without any creek water running through it.
He gave me no warning or any prior notice it was coming. And he managed to do it cleaner than he does in our bathroom at home most of the time, so he got no static from me.
I’ve never heard of him doing anything like it before that moment.
As long as he knows not to do it in a classroom in a year or two from now I guess I’m fine with it.
Harrison was on a roll.
Then it was Mara’s turn.
Enter Mara Charlotte Hawkins, reintroduce our barefooted boys from earlier… and action…
As the boys waded down the muddy runoff of nasty water that I flippantly call a creek out of mere convenience for my kids, Mara yelled “Don’t walk in the creek, you’ll fall and get hurt!”
My timing could not have been more perfect, because right when I turned my head toward the littlest of the 3 boys Mara was yelling at, he was looking up from concentrating on his footwork to gaze at Mara. He immediately slipped and fell forward into the water, almost all of this happening simultaneously.
He started screaming.
His life being in no danger at all because of the creek having little water flow and only being ankle deep, despite being the closest adult to the situation, I didn’t make any movements or gestures to go help him out.
Meanwhile the two ladies were about 30 yards from him up the creek yammering on about god knows what, feeding off each other’s replies, and crescendoing the conversation higher and higher.
All that was missing were the glasses of wine.
Like I said, this wasn’t even a semi-serious situation, and these weren’t my kids.
I’m actually paying attention to, and hanging out with, mine.
So I did not feel the slightest bit guilty or obligated to go fish that kid out of the water as he sat on his butt yelling and getting more muddied up by the second.
I did feel bad for him because it took about 45-60 seconds for the ladies to finally hear him and realize what was going on.
At that point all one of them did was yell ‘Mathias, c’mon, get up, get outta that water, get up, we’re going back to the playground!’
And that was it.
One of the older boys came over and helped him up and off they went.
I made up my mind about four and a half years ago that I would do my best to not judge the way other people choose to parent their children, unless it’s immoral or illegal. But it’s hard not to wonder about the bare feet thing.
With a pandemic looming in the background, and hygiene being an issue for most people regardless of what’s going on in the world, the whole thing seemed so odd to me.
I was over it from the start.
Harrison put the icing on the cake to his day when he took one of the worst falls I can ever imagine seeing on his bike on the way home.
He’s been ripping around on his bike for a couple months now, and this time he basically flew right off.
He hit the ground, and was stunned.
I acted like I didn’t see it. Started messing around with Mara and doing some little inside jokes with her all while keeping an eye on him.
He just slowly and methodically pulled himself together, inch by inch, rub by rub, dust off by dust off, mumble by mumble, until I finally felt comfortable believing he wasn’t going to cry. At that point I rushed over and complimented him on how tough he was.
A couple of capri-suns in the garage later and we were back inside the house.
Just another walk in the park.