Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Neverending Story

I love watching my kids engage in creative play. This summer, with their limited technology time, it’s what they do more than anything else. Inside, outside, upstairs, downstairs, a constant stream of sound and motion, the enactment of writing out loud.

Thirty-plus years ago, Pete and I did the same thing. For us, it was all Star Wars all the time. We had dozens of action figures and, while elements of the movies were sometimes re-created, generally the plot and characters were a jumping-off place for our (mostly Pete’s) crazy imaginations. The green carpet in the living room (ah, the 70s) was “Green Stuff,” a substance so sticky that once you stepped in, you were forever stuck. Crock, the big stuffed frog with one broken eye, was the only creature who could move through Green Stuff unhindered and our characters often caught rides on the friendly guy’s back.

The red linoleum in the entryway was hot lava, of course, and the blue braided rug in the dining room was water. There was regular daylight, but when every light we could find was turned on, it was “Full Blast Daylight,” creating conditions so blinding even the twin suns of Tatooine couldn’t match them. And you always had to watch out for the “Deadly Colors,” a mass of whirling I-don’t-really-know-what inspired by Pete’s crazy scribbling with those old 10-color pens. The Deadly Colors didn’t hurt you when they engulfed you, but if you stepped out, you were instantly killed.

All of the storm troopers were completely addicted to Fig Newtons, so whenever they had the rebels surrounded someone only had to point and yell, “Fig Newton Man!” and the inept imperial forces would whirl around to find the guy who had their fix. Meanwhile, the sniggering good guys would dash off to safety. Our Star Wars figures climbed trees and jumped out of them with plastic grocery bags tied to their shoulders as parachutes. They bushwhacked through tall grass, excavated the sandbox, and wandered through the giant plants and flowers of Mom’s gardens. Childhood heaven.

With my kids, the characters are different, but the spirit is the same. Now they take on the personas of the heroes and villains of their favorite video games: The Legend of Zelda, Mario Bros., and Pokémon. In a big mash-up of the plots of a dozen different adventures, they explore haunted
mansions, fight epic battles, meet bizarre creatures and drink Lon Lon Milk. There is a great deal of laughter (and also fair amount of arguing, but that’s just kids). The game never ends. It has pauses, when there are places to go, jobs to do or technologies to enjoy, but it always picks up where it left off. The kids are even frequently in character at meals, which, frankly, gets annoying. But the creativity is free flowing and joyfully innocent. How could I discourage that?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Five Minutes Flat

Turn on the water, almost all hot, which guarantees about two-and-a-half minutes of good temperature. Start mentally playing out the day’s schedule. Twist the knob to switch from bath to shower, gritting teeth against the ear-splitting metal shriek. I’ll probably need to make more coffee since Dan had a cup this morning. Step into the uneven stream, mostly dense and pelting, but with halfway decent pressure. Kids have occupational therapy this afternoon so no time for a nap. Oh, we’re almost out of shampoo again. Start lathering. I need to call the office about that grant budget. I can’t submit the darn thing if I don’t get approval on those numbers I tweaked. Rinse. I have got to put that doctor’s appointment in the computer calendar before I completely space on it—as soon as I’m done here. Lather number two. Ooh! Scones! I think I have time to make those today. Do I have sour cream? Yeah, a whole container at the back of the fridge. Rinse and turn down the cold water a bit. Why does the shower get cooler when I turn down the cold? Turn it further. That’s better. Conditioner. We really need to get a plumber out here. Pick through with conditioner in to form the curl. I love Dan’s hairdresser for that perm tip! Rinse. Wonder when he’s going to need another cut. I think there’s money in the budget for that. Turn the cold down again--really far this time so the water doesn’t do that cooling-off thing. Grab the soap. OW, Dammit! Step out and turn the cold back up. Just slightly. I still need to talk to Dan about doing special music this Sunday at church. Soap from head to toe. He’s at the Twins stadium tonight. I’d better talk to him about it right away. Turn the cold water off completely now. Rinse. Shave? Who am I kidding? Face cleanser. Need to wake the kids up early. They’ve been staying up way too late at night. Rinse. Still, need to get some grant work done and it’s much easier when they’re sleeping. Water off. Once again reminded that the faucet and handles are loose. Grab a towel. Launch.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Bend in the Creek

I sit on a metal bench, a folded up picnic blanket cushioning my almost-forty tailbone. I’m facing our favorite bend in Nine Mile Creek. Not that we’ve explored all nine miles of the creek, but there’s something magical about this little spot where the laughing water meanders almost 180 degrees around a child-sized beach. The jutting sandbar shelters a kidney-shaped pool, maybe a foot or so deep, with a slow current, sandy bottom and crystal clear water. It’s the perfect place to wade, or in my daughter’s case, completely submerge. My little water sprite.

The kids are playing there now. Their splashing and talking are absorbed by the sounds around us, blending in as if just as natural, as one with the creek, rolling and gurgling over the stones and rushing around the outer bank of the bend, as one with the birds and the gentle breeze. A train whistle, surprisingly close, reminds me we are still in the city. But even that seems right, a haunting contribution to nature’s symphony.

The sun is bright, but kind at this hour, and the bench and little pool are generously shaded by trees and shrubs. Hundreds of tiny puffs of cotton drift through the air like delicate snow. I watch as they slowly, gently land in the water and then are instantly whisked away by the current.

Dozens of black-winged dragonflies congregate in the vegetation across the stream, flitting and darting in the breeze. They make forays, individually, to my side of the water, landing in the grass and opening their quadruple wings, momentarily basking in the warm sun before zipping back into the welcoming shade.

Occasionally a mosquito or other pesky insect buzzes by my ear—the only imperfection in this idyllic scene, and this only a minor one.

For a long moment, everything is beautiful. I don’t even have the desire to write or read. My phone seems badly out of place. Nothing I brought to pass the time can compete with this.

I breathe it in. Drink it. Absorb it.

And I am grateful.