I watch my son from the window. He is pushing the lawn mower in long, even rows across the grass, his tanned legs flexing against the ground as he works.
He comes in tired and hot, a thin band of sweat across his upper lip, and he stands right in front of me, the top of his head level with my eyes. He takes a long swig of water from a Mason jar, tugs the earplugs out of his ears, and gives me a hug.
“Now can I go play?” he asks.
He bounds across the grass to the trampoline where he joins his brothers in a game I invented: Superhero Smash. They bounce around like jumping beans, then collapse in a heap to stare at the Russian olive towering above their heads.
This boy of mine, this Firstborn, is 11. It struck me the other day, when he came home from Scout camp covered in mosquito bites and reeking of new skills, that these are the last years of boyhood.
He is on the cusp of adolescence, and I find myself both awed and saddened.
Childhood should be like Neverland, one part pirate and two parts fairy dust. It should be a time of skinned knees and lemonade, new discoveries, learning how to whistle and blow bubble gum and pop a wheelie and tell stories in blanket forts. It should be a time of animated laughter and simple songs, small victories and small frustration. It needs to be as wide open as a summer window, and like a good dish of apple pie and ice cream, it should go down easy, both cold and hot.
Childhood should be like a garden, filled to the brim with good things. It should be a place gently fenced and thoughtfully managed, with a bit of wild overgrowth and extravagant color thrown in.
There is enough of the lone and dreary world lurking outside the walls. It wants to take our kids at younger and younger ages and demand the structure and stress that we adults define as “productive.”
I simply won’t allow it. The older my children get, the more I want to let loose. Eat ice cream for dinner. Skip a piano practice. Say yes as much as possible. Give hugs. Praise maturity and creativity. Allow for more dirt and scrap paper than I would sometimes like.
The days of serious business will come, when grades will matter and friendships will cut more than skin deep. There will be time for a driver’s license, facial hair, a real job, dating and all the reality checks that come with the teenage years and weightier matters of adulthood.
But right now, my boy, still a boy (although enormous), is flying high out there on the trampoline. He jumps into the sky with loose abandon, flapping those lengthening limbs. He wants to see how high he can jump. He thinks that maybe, if he bends his knees just right and pushes off just so, he may be able to go forever, past the Russian olive, past the nesting crows, up toward that second star to the right, straight on ‘til morning.
I’m going to let him keep going. I’m not going to pull him down just yet.