A PLAYGROUND, A SON AND A FATHER'S OBSERVATION
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His day was before him. His life stretched even further ahead. But, as he stood there in his khaki slacks and flannel shirt, his red hair waving without the help of the wind, his focus was no further than the plastic and metal toys behind the grey chain link fence of the play ground.
It was like they were calling his name. The look he was giving them said he was being beckoned, maybe even challenged by the toys he longed to meet.
And yes, I believe they knew his name by now. He watched them every morning on his way into the school house and then every afternoon on his way home. I am sure that he found any available window to watch them from inside. I believe these toys and my son knew each other well by now. But, on this morning, my focus was not on his three year old frame and I again missed the chance to introduce him to the toys. It was only later that I realized that I had missed a chance to grip this innocence that so defines his child hood.
He stood beyond the car as I got first one sister then another out of their seats. He reached down and grabbed a hand full of rocks in his tiny hands. Only three or four rocks would fit in each hand but he took up as much as he could and stood there staring. After a few seconds he slung the first rock several feet, not in the direction of the playground but rather in a direction in which the playground could see very well it was he who had thrown the first rock.
With both sisters out of the car by now, I joined him. Another rock then another was flung. Finally he had no more rocks. He reached down and grabbed a few more as I demanded that they be dropped. He didn’t listen.
He was in another world. It was as if he was a gladiator and the toys were the lions or he was the great conqueror and the playground was his quest. Another rock was thrown then another until he had again emptied his hands. This time, I took one hand in mine and led him across the parking lot, a sister holding the other hand.
By now it had begun to mist. The rain of the last several weeks that had kept him from going inside the fence was threatening again. I tried to hurry them across the parking lot and into the safety of the school house but his backward glances delayed the progress.
The youngest sister in my arms being shielded from the mist, was still in awe of her siblings. She watched as they walked, as if memorizing their steps for later trials. The other sister, at two, focused on the glass door ahead as if in her mind she was trying to remember what came after B and C and then D.
Still, he looked backward with each step to make sure the toys had neither advanced nor retreated.
A missed step or two and he ascended the five risers in front of the school house, still glancing backwards with determination. Anyone watching would surely believe he was incapable of making the climb. But, he was quite capable.
He had started walking a few weeks shy of his first birthday. That was quickly followed by running and that naturally progressed to climbing the couch, the chair and everything else he could find. I believe that is why he revered the toys on the playground as much. He had yet to climb those. He had yet to run with them. He was just waiting for his time.
As we opened the glass doors leading into the office, three sets of eyes gazed at the desk and the sign in sheet while one set focused through the glass, back to where we had just entered. As we walked past the doors that lead to the class room, it was almost as if he had given up; at least for now.
His posture was not nearly as strong as it was when we were near the playground. I, at the time, still didn’t recognize what had caused the change. I believed that it had something to with the fact that we were inside the school that he seemed to despise. He did not despise school because he hated to learn. He loved to learn. But he loved to climb and run even more.
A hug and a kiss from his three year old frame and another from his sister and I was out the door as quick as I had come in. The youngest sister was still not in school yet so she and I crossed the parking lot in the mist and she was settled back into her seat with a smile on her precious face. Then I was in my seat.
As I started to crank the car it was only then that I noticed the playground and how it seemed to sneer.
I sat there for a few minutes in the quiet and thought about what had just happened. I remembered his three year old stance when near the playground. I remembered the rocks. I even thought of the missed steps and the backward glances. I felt a pain in my heart knowing that my son had posed a challenge and walked away. I knew it hurt his heart. The disappointment was shared between a father and a son.
It took several more days for me to fully understand and process that morning. But, by the next week, the rain had stopped.
Then, one afternoon when I picked them up from the brick school house, I saw him outside in the luminous sunshine. It seemed to be even brighter on this day. It could be because the sun had not shone in several weeks or it could be because the smile of a three year old was adding to the brightness.
He was inside the fence. His face showed triumph as he climbed and ran. There were at least a dozen other children playing inside the fence but he didn’t notice them and neither did I.
I sat in the car and watched from a distance. I smiled.
I thought about how many times he had passed the playground without going inside the gate. I thought about the morning, a week ago, when I finally understood his feelings. Mostly though, I watched my son in his victory. It was a victory shared by a father and a son.