Camping is almost synonymous with Boy Scouts. To think of one without the other seems almost impossible. Whenever we’ve gone camping, it seems we almost always see some scouting group or another pitching their tents. We encouraged the Boy to join Cub Scouts by, in part, telling him about camping trips.
This weekend we had our first trip, and as I might have expected, he was terribly excited about it until Friday. “I don’t want to go camping,” became the day’s refrain. In the evening, though, I sold it to him by suggesting we might just need to have a men’s weekend. That did it, and so we did.
We packed our gear, kissed the girls goodbye, and headed to our first scout camping trip.
At first, the Boy was hesitant, careful. Shy. He ventured onto a playground after lunch (we arrived just after lunch because of the soccer game — one goal this weekend) and played around a bit, but he seemed to be playing apart from the other boys despite being in their very midst. He kept coming back to check on where I was, to make sure I was still around, and then to ask me if we could go.
“No, we’ve committed ourselves. We’ll be staying till tomorrow.”
“Okay.” No fussing, just resignation.
By dinner time, he’d made friends and disappeared in the storm of boys that raged around the camp. When the evening came and the pack leader began the scout meeting, he was only vaguely aware or worried about where I was.
By the time the sun had set and the pack leader had transitioned into the flag retirement ceremony, he wasn’t even paying attention to where I was.
But he was paying attention to what was going on. Sort of.
The leader discussed the proper way to handle a flag, the proper way to show respect, and then explained how to retire a flag. It involves fire, which is ironic considering all the controversy over the years regarding burning flags. Yet the pack leader explained that the flag is first cut into four pieces, three pieces with stripes and the star field left whole to signify the unity of the country, and at that point, it is no longer a flag.
“We burn the cloth,” he concluded, “then respectfully gather and bury the ashes.”
During evening prayers, he suggested we pray for the flag.
“What do you mean?”
“So that they never burn it like that again.”
Apparently, he’d misunderstood what was going on, and I suppose he’d simply sat and watched, somewhat horrified, as his pack leader instructed scouts to burn flags. I explained what had happened, and he seemed okay with it, but still a little disturbed.
In the morning, he was ready for more running, yelling, and falling with the boys. It was as if he’d forgotten all about it. I suppose he has, but we’ll see next year when we go again.
The Girl has been singing in the youth choir for about a year now, and she was recently chosen to participate in a small ensemble to learn some more challenging pieces. Last night, she and the other seven members (ages 10-16) sang “Stabat Mater,” an a cappella, three-voice piece in Latin.
The Boy has spent this autumnal soccer season running around the edges of the action. Last week, before the game, he insisted that he was going to push his way in like I’d told him to do. “Just go in there and get the ball.” And he did. Sort of. But he was still mostly just running around the periphery.
Today, K and the Girl joined us — next week is the final game — and E assured me as we all got into the car, “Today, I’m going to get in there like you told me.
During the pre-game practice/warm-up, things were just as they always are: the Boy at times seemed lost in all the distractions of other teams getting read, still other teams playing, adults moving here and there, and there are times when he was intensely focused on what the Coach Kevin told them to do.
The game began, and it looked like it would be a tough game for the opposing team: every single child was smaller than most of our team. As a child, you just want to win, to obliterate the other team; as an adult, you want your kid’s team to do well, but you want to see the other team do well also. Today seemed like that would be tough, and indeed, it was.
The Boy from the start seemed a little different. He was more aware of what was going on, and he even made some defensive plays that were impressive. At one point, a player from the other team made a break-away and was heading down the field to a certain goal, but the Boy chased him down and kicked the ball away from him at the last moment.
And then the moment — the moment, I thought. The Boy managed to take the ball at the baseline of the opposing team’s side, and navigated toward the goal, seemingly unopposed. But someone knocked the ball out at the last minute, and as it shot out of the bunch of kids, I thought, “Well, there goes his chance of scoring this year.”
Yet a few minutes later, the same thing happened, and he scored — his first goal. He came running across the field to tell us. “Mommy! Daddy! I scored a goal!” High fives from the coach; high fives from the family. It was just a bit magical for the Boy. But he wasn’t done.
He took a break — the kids don’t play halves but quarters, and most kinds play alternating quarters — and explained some of the finer points of scoring, as if he were Robert Lewandowski, the Polish soccer player who, with a hat-trick this week, became the all-time leading scorer for the Polish national team.
But when he went back in, he backed up his explanations with another goal, a beautiful break-away that he ended burning up the back of the goal. (Never mind that this week, like last week, the teams decided to play without goalies. That’s just a technicality.) Shortly after his second goal, he managed another escape, only to shot wide to the left.
“Too bad,” I thought. “It would be nice to get a hat-trick like Lewandowski.” And just as I was thinking such silliness, the Boy managed his third goal.
On the way back to the car, the Boy summed up the day perfectly: “I really went hard on those guys today.”
Coming home from soccer today (“I really tried to do what you told me!” the Boy declared when assessing his performance: he got into the fray of children running around the ball and pushed his way in. Didn’t go for the ball, just nudged people here and there.), the Boy asked, “Daddy, if the letter is ‘A’ why does it have an ‘E’ sound in it?” I said the letter aloud, noticing that it actually has a diphthong at the end: a long ‘E’ sound.
“I don’t know.”
“Why isn’t it just ‘a’?” he asked, making the short ‘A’ sound.
“I don’t know.”
We’ve been taking Clover over to our neighbor’s fenced in backyard while we wait to have our fence complete. Our neighbors, who are absolutely the best neighbors one could have, told us to feel free any time to bring the dog over to let her have unfettered free play, and we take them up on that generous offer daily. They even set a plastic chair out for whoever — usually K — is there with the dog.
Right now, I sit in that chair, and I glance over at our house and see K leading E into the house. It’s not clear if he’s hurt or in trouble, or perhaps neither, but for a moment, I’m an outsider looking at my family as if I were the neighbor.
What do I know about that odd family that lives next door?
The wife is a sweet and hard working woman from Poland, who has a slightly noticeable but endearing accent and a penchant for phrasing things in an unusual way. She’s clearly devoted to her children, and spends a great deal of time with them, often down at the little corner recreation area the family has made in the far corner of the lot. She fusses at her children from time to time, but I’ve never heard her yell.
The daughter was such a little girl when they moved here, a regular princess. How she’s changed and how she’s stayed the same. She was always dancing and prancing about as a princess as a little girl, but now I see her out in the driveway sometimes, roller-skates on, improvising some dance routine with the seriousness of an accountant. And how tall she’s grown: she’ll soon be as tall as her mother, I think.
Then there’s the little boy, who is always so eager to help. Every time I’m out washing the car or the camper, there he is, eager to help.
That’s what I think — hope, believe — my neighbor thinks of my family. And what might my neighbor think of me? That I’m helpful, a good father and husband, a good neighbor — all the normal things, I guess.
The Boy was playing a computer game just before dinner. He decided he needed the Girl’s help. She eventually helped him.
That’s the short version of it.
The long version includes coaching the Boy about how to ask for help without being an annoying and intrusive presence and encouraging the Girl to take an active role in helping the Boy through difficult experiences.
She didn’t want to go to the park to take the dog for a walk. At one point, she adamantly refused. Not at one point. Immediately. Had she not done so, I might — might — have considered letting her stay behind, considering what she wanted to do instead, but that immediate refusal made that impossible. K and I pointed out a few simple facts: she hadn’t gotten much exercise today; she was dying for a dog and now not willing to help; there was time for that other activity when we got back; and so on. So she went on the walk with the Boy and me, with Clover leading the way. (Next training task: get her to stop pulling on the lead.) And it’s safe to say she enjoyed it. We laughed a bit, chatted a bit, and she danced down the trail a bit — all typical. And in the car on the way, she did what she wanted to stay behind to do: she read one of the mountain of books she checked out of the library yesterday.
She wanted to stay behind to read.
I can’t get some of my students to read a paragraph without griping, but she wanted to read. She’s chewed through an unbelievable 2,700 pages so far this school year, and she’s gotten hooked on a new series, which I’m ashamed to say I can’t even identify. Given her year-long obsession with mythology, it’s not hard to guess about the subject matter. But that number, which she shared during breakfast today — 2,700. That’s just impressive. I’ve read 39 books in 2017 so far. That’s probably a touch over 3,000 pages, but that’s over the course of almost nine months. She’s read almost a third of that in a ninth of the time.
So the choice was this: force her to get some exercise and share in the companionship of a walk or let her read. Had she not forced my hand with her fussing obstinacy, I’m not sure what was the right choice.
I was too lazy to import and work on the handful of pictures I took of the morning light in our backyard, so here’s one of a fruit and vegetable vendor in Warsaw over the summer getting ticketed for not having the proper paperwork.
Where’d I get that 3,000 pages? I was tired. Somehow I did the math in my head so incredibly incorrectly that it’s laughable, but now that I realize that, I’m too tired to go back and rewrite it. L’s better at math than I am, too.
He runs around the pack of children that are kicking wildly for the ball, circling the periphery without ever penetrating. At one point, the ball comes right to him. He looks at it and then glances around, his expression saying, “Well, I’m not really sure if this is mine or not, and I don’t really want to take it from anyone unfairly.”
I’ve told him several times that he has to penetrate that group, force his way in, push people out of the way if necessary.
“I try,” he insists, but I’m not convinced he even realizes what he’s doing. I try to take a video of it, but the sun is shining right into the phone, making dark silhouettes of all the players.
Even in the best of conditions, I’m not sure he would see the issue. When he runs, he does so with such intensity, such ferocity — his arms pumping wildly as he runs as fast as he can — that you would be forgiven for thinking he’s running down a challenge of existential significance. He sprints towards the ball, then slows and resumes his position as an outsider, a virtual on-looker.
On the way back to the car, he shows once again that it’s all irrelevant, that there are more important things to be concerned with, both as a child and a parent. Particularly the latter. Holding his Gatorade that he got as an after-game snack — most parents just bring juice boxes, but someone went all out, I guess — he declared, “I’m only going to drink half of this. L likes Gatorade, too.”
I’ve never been good about tool maintenance. Other things are a different. The bike I ride to school looks and rides like it’s brand new. My chain is always glistening; my cables are always in tip-top shape; my bottom bracket spins like there’s no tomorrow.
But tools? I let perfectly good things wear out. Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do? But when we retired our lawn mower a few months ago and bought a new, shiny Honda after a fair amount of research, I decided things would change with that mower. I began hosing it off thoroughly after each job, even the underside of the mower deck. (Having a fuel shut-off valve helped a lot.) Today, I took it a step further: I dug out an old brush and actually brushed off the stains forming on the underside of the deck.
“If you could only get that way about our cars,” K is surely saying to herself.
We usually are going counter-clockwise, Clover and I. When we reach the yard — that yard — we approach it blindly. I know it’s there, but a stand of trees hides that fact. Clover knows soon enough when we’ve reached that spot, though: the two dogs come tearing at her, barking madly, stopped only by the fence. She pulls and pulls the opposite way, but I pull her in close to me, pet her and reassure her.
“It’s okay, Clover. They won’t touch you.”
Eventually we make it past the house, but she’s positively terrified.
That’s been the reality for a while. Today, we went the opposite way. When we approached the road from up the street, she recognized the house almost immediately, hesitated, then walked on. The dogs came out; the dogs barked; Clover kept walking.
Saturdays these days start with soccer at 9:30. Today, it was tough to get him out the door. K had surprised him the night before with a bunch of Star Wars toys from my childhood that Nana and Papa had saved. He complained about his busy schedule, about his inability to have any time “just to relax.” He just wanted to have some time to rest and play with his new toys. And it grew to a fuss-fit. So I gave him a simple option: “You don’t have to go play soccer today. We can spend the time packing up all these Star Wars toys and taking them back downstairs.”
Needless to say, he was very willing to go after that.
Soccer was fairly typical: after a twenty-minute practice session, the kids played a game. And the Boy played as he usually does, drifting around the periphery, watching, not quite sure whether he wants to engage with the other players. That’s a fairly accurate description of many of the players, to be sure, but for me, knowing him as a parent, it’s a natural outgrowth of his personality.
It’s not something I’m really interested in trying to change. It’s part of his personality. While I think a little more assertiveness might be beneficial later in life, it’s not something I’m terribly worried about for a five year old.
Besides, there were certainly enough assertive players out there today, enough that E’s team won 4-1 (though one goal wasn’t counted, I believe). Again, I don’t care whether his team wins or loses — and E even less so — but I find it ironic that, given all that, his team is so far undefeated.
When we got home, though, the real fun began.
And in the evening, a rarity. The Boy wanted to play instead of reading — nothing really new there. What was surprising was that the Girl wanted to play.
“I thought you hated Star Wars,” I asked.
“I do. But the toys are great.”
So the three of us played for a little while.
“Daddy, is this a good guy or a bad guy?” was a common question. We didn’t really worry about it. Han Solo battled Luke and the Empire collapsed on itself in a grand civil war.