“Boys!” I holler, standing on our back deck. I wait a few seconds, staring at the silent woods in front of me. No answer. I cup my hands around my mouth, take a deep breath and holler even louder, “Boys!!!”.
With an exasperated tone, I hear a simultaneous, “what!?” come from somewhere beyond.
“It’s time for dinner!”. This time, the boys don’t respond, but I can hear a quiet murmur of voices, and then the slow, begrudging obedience of them making their way to the house. The cracking of sticks under their feet and the swooshing of goldenrod and pig-weed and grass being shoved aside, as I see them emerge from the brush, filthy, sweaty and hungry.
They’ve been down by The Brook playing with Payton and Beckett, our neighbors’ two kids, who have become more like family with each passing day. The Brook bi-sects our two homes, and for the last few years, it has served as the Headquarters to our children’s’ shenanigans.
Above are pictures of the well-worn, oft trodden paths that have naturally formed over the last few years. They have run down these paths, fought on these paths, limped home with bruised knees and neddle-burns, stomped home with hurt feelings, and dragged themselves through these paths, protesting and crying from exhaustion upon hearing the dreaded, “It’s time to come in”.
The boys meander to our picnic table, where dinner is waiting. Corn on the cob, chicken and potato salad. They immediately begin to fight over who gets which corn-stickers.
“What are you guys doin’ down by The Brook today?”.
My eldest son begins an elaborate and animated re-cap of the last four hours.
“Well, we’re trying to catch a Leprechaun and we’re making some Leprechaun traps out of some sticks and rocks and some birch bark and guess what!?!? Payton said that when she left the brook last night, she placed a rock on the side of the brook near her house, but when we went down today, it was on the side of the brook near our house!?!?”.
I gasp and look at the boys, who are both nodding and chewing as if to say, “It’s true! It’s true!”.
“We think the Leprechaun moved it!” Sam interjects, corn kernels stuck to his buttered lips.
“And so we’re being detectives and everyday we look for clues to see if the Leprechaun has been there and we leave little sticks or stones here and there to see if they’re moved after!”. Silas tells me this in a very matter-of-fact tone, pushing his glasses up a bit further on his nose.
“Yeah, we’re on chapter 17 and when we go back down to the brook after dinner, we’ll be on chapter 18”. The boys shovel food into their mouths as fast as they can, describing each of their roles in the make-believe games.
Payton, the eldest of the group, (and the only girl), is often the Mother Hen of the group, and a leader. She looks after everyone and often has wonderfully imaginative ideas for everyone to play off of. Right now, as I type, she and Silas are sitting at my dining room table penning a letter to a local farmer, asking if they can be his hired hands.
Silas, my eldest son, is next. He often takes Payton’s lead, but is also becoming more paternal and a quiet leader. He gives the others rides on his 4-wheeler and reminds them about wearing helmets and being careful. The cautious one of the four, he is often the voice of reason as well.
Sam, my younger son, is the lovable goofball of the group who, I’m guessing, doesn’t always like to listen to the older two although he’s the first one to hand out hugs. He’s also somewhat of an informant, coming up to the house to say who said “poopy-head” or who wasn’t being “fair”.
Beckett, the youngest of the group by a few years, is the cutest of them all. The rest of the kids keep him safe and include him in all of their games. When the four of them make their way to our house, Beckett will sometimes break from the group, make his way to the house and announce, “Michelle, I’m getting hungry”.
I hear “Can we go down to The Brook?” as soon as they get off the bus; first thing in the morning when they’ve made their way outside; when they’re bored; when they’re angry with us; when they hear squealing going on next door, or when they haven’t seen Payton or Beckett for a few days and they miss them.
“Can I go down to The Brook?” is code for, “Can we go and see if Payton and Beckett are home and if they’re not, loiter around down there until they do get home?”. Other times, we’ll all be outside puttering around and one of the boys will hear Payton and Beckett at their house. “Payton!” Silas will holler toward the woods. From the other side we hear a faint “Silas! Meet us at The Brook!. “We’ll be over in a minute!”, and the boys will race through the house looking for their crocks and disappear in the thick of the brush, not to be seen again for who knows how long.
I remember when I was their age, playing hide and seek outside until dark. Until our moms hollered for us to come in. I remember biking everywhere and getting filthy and playing imaginary games. I also remember Atari, and Nintendo and MTV. I remember playing Tetris after school until we were kicked off. Good or bad, right or wrong, technology takes the place of countless things in our lives, especially today: iPads instead of taking notes in class; Garmins instead of using maps and reading signs; “Contacts” lists instead of remembering phone numbers; Siri instead of Encyclopedias. In 500 years, we might not even be able to function as a human race without the use of technology– the skills we used to have, slowly becoming obsolete in the wake of the iWatch.
As a parent raising a child in such a fast-progressing world, it is understandable why some are so afraid of the idea of technology running our lives, that they refuse to entertain the idea of their kids having an iPad or playing video games or having a Facebook page. I guess I’m not one of those parents. I guess I worry that allowing children to zone out on an iPad for ten hours a day, 7 days a week, is as equally damaging as shielding them from our present-day reality.
Both of my boys have their own Kindles. We also have my husband’s old PlayStation 2, which the boys play in spurts. We have HD tv’s and the boys know how to run everything on their own. They are obsessed with Minecraft (which I don’t even understand mind you) and talk about the most recent cartoon episode with friends while waiting for the bus. Like my parents did, we have rules for our boys with their electronics: No playing on electronics of any kind when it’s a nice day; No playing on them when company is over; when you do play on them, it is time-limited and when I set the timer and tell them that it’s time to put them away when it goes off, they do so without a fight– most of the time.
Besides, those Kindles have saved lives. During long car rides to places like Santa’s Village, when normally, three hours of fighting, screaming, hitting, things being thrown around the car and kicking the back of my seat might have pushed me over the edge causing me to drive the car right off a cliff in desperation, we avoided it all, thanks to their Kindles.
But, unlike what most people envision when they envision kids who have and play with electronics, this is still what my children live for:
Silas, Payton, Beckett and Sam, all down by the dried up brook. When these kiddos are teenagers and pass each other in the hallways on the way to English Literature or Chemistry, it will be these things they remember about each other. It will be the endless hours down at the brook, or playing on the tractors or the 4-wheelers. It will be the going back and forth between each others’ houses leaving messes everywhere they go, but leaving their mothers’ hearts warm and happy. It will be having felt safe among their neighbors and with each other. Yes, there will probably be a slew of new technology they’ll be into at the time, but fortunately, the memories they’re making today will have already lodged themselves in their hearts and nothing will ever be able to take those away from them, reassuring me that it’s absolutely possible to have good, old-fashioned fun in the twenty-first century, it’s just all about the balance.