It’s one of the first signs of warm weather where we live. The jaybirds dance on our lawn. Naked, as the saying goes. And by jaybirds, you know I really mean my sons, right? Well, they do. They love to dance “naked as jaybirds.” It happened yesterday, earlier than usual, but the weather was an unseasonably high 86 degrees and that meant water fights.
I am out front doing some yard work–I seem to manage fifteen minute intervals of weeding and whacking these days. And there I am, trimming back some shrubs, when the boys sneak up and attack me with their water pistols. I scream with genuine surprise then delight, and they are pleased with their subterfuge. At this point, they are wearing bathing suits. I give them my usual five-minute warning, this time regarding homework: “Homework in five minutes!” “Okay.”
As they gallop back to the hose, I can’t help but smile. I am thrilled that they took it upon themselves to come out and enjoy the beautiful sun. I left them inside with the babysitter (the television) because I REALLY need to trim these shrubs. Watching them at the hose, I become nostalgic. Yes, a form of nostalgia I feel now as a parent that makes me sad for the fleeting memory while I am witnessing it. The kind that makes me thankful to be experiencing this event, but already sad knowing it will be over too soon. The moment quickly fades into a memory on my lawn, to be joined by the previous memories of sprinklers, and slip-n-slides, and kiddy pools of seasons past. I think about how sweet and innocent this time in their life still is, and how just a hose, some water guns, a bucket (and an unsuspecting dad) are all they need to thrill them.
While I continue in the garden, they squeal with laughter, as the cold spray of water shocks their lanky bodies. When I finish, the boys are a bit miffed that I do not want to get soaking wet. “But we wanted to attack you some more.” “Sorry, we have to do homework.” “Can you at least dump this bucket on us?”Owen asks. “Sure!” I say. What a consolation. “But I’ll only do it if you turn around. It’s more fun if you don’t see it coming.” Both boys sit in the driveway with their backs to me, and I proceed to drench them with a five gallon bucket of ice-cold water. This time, they scream with surprise then delight. “Okay, now homework!”
The boys dutifully listen to me. They strip out of their bathing suits, grab their towels and then their book bags. They settle down at the table on our patio and begin their homework–naked! I am taken aback by this and can’t find the words to tell them to dress. It’s as if they do their homework naked every night. They sit sans clothes through reading, spelling and math. I even serve them drinks and snacks. And once again, here I am confronting a situation as a parent that I did not see coming: At what point does it become not cute or okay for my boys to be running around “naked as a couple of jaybirds”?
Naked babies are adorable, naked toddlers are funny, but a naked first and second grader? Weird? Awkward? Unfortunately, they are growing up so fast, but in many ways they are so similar to the boys they were 1,2,3 years ago. Yesterday was the first time I was thinking, “this can’t continue much longer, right?” Yet, what I loved about the entire event was how comfortable the boys were with their natural state. It is a goal of mine for them to be proud and aware of their bodies. I know it is, in part, my rebuttal to my Catholic roots, in which at my sons’ ages I was already obsessing about the different types of sin (mortal or venial), and where I remember being told to get my hand out of my pants because it was “dirty.” Well, that set me back a couple of decades. And please don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to raise little nudist or run a commune. But I love that there is a sense of innocence and acceptance that my sons convey in these situations.
After homework, they begin to chase each other around the backyard. “Okay. Enough. Go inside and get clothes on.” Their two full moons run past me as they giggle their way into the house. A few minutes later, they are at the kitchen counter. Baseball season has started, which means dinner at 5. As I make their meals, Owen says, “Dad, I learned how to write H, E, and L in cursive. So, guess what word I can spell–in cursive!?” “Owen!” I say, acting shocked. “Yep, I can spell the H word in cursive now.” “Well, did you?” I ask. “NO! But I could.” “He accidentally said it twice today,” pipes in his younger brother, Hayden. “You said it yesterday, too.” he continues. “It’s not an accident if you keep saying it,” I tell him. “I’m sorry, but I think I really love curse words,” he confesses. ME, TOO! I think, but I say, “Curse words make you look dumb. There’s always a better word to use than a curse word.” But these words will never make you feel as good as a bleeping curse word will! I think. Boy, this has turned in to quite a day. Doing homework naked. Cursing at the kitchen counter. Should I let them try a beer with dinner?
The moments come often. They are reminders that their innocence is a fleeting phenomenon. Have you been on a playground lately? If so, then you’ve probably heard some six-year-old singing about sexy ladies a la Gangam Style, or one of Kesha’s latest ditties about playing with your junk. And my sons are right there singing along to some of these choruses. Yet, I am amazed that they don’t know more! I am relieved that they’re only spelling Hell (in cursive). And I want to continue to be a part of the conversation. Not as their friend, but as their father. If I can at least help them understand why something is offensive, then maybe they will think twice before saying or doing it.
Baseball practice is hot. The fields are dusty with dry dirt, and all the boys want to kick it up like it’s their job. On the way home, I inform Owen and Hayden that they have to get a quick shower. They hate showers. We’re lucky if they get one every other night. The whining starts. Hayden begins to cry. “Look, you’re dirty. You smell. You have to get a shower,” I holler to them in the back seat. More protests. As I pull into the driveway, I notice the hose still out from their afternoon frolic. “Fine. You can get a shower OR I can hose you off.” “Hose! Hose!” they insist. They jump out of the car, put their baseball equipment away, and strip down. Dammit, I wasn’t thinking about the fact that they would be naked out here, again. And now many neighbors are home from work and enjoying the spring night. What the hell is wrong with me?
I turn the hose on. The boys are tired. The water is cold. It does not have the same thrill it did this afternoon. In fact, it seems torturous. I regret it the moment the water slaps their skin. I feel stupid. Embarrassed. Pam comes outside and sees this display. The boys are yelling for their towels. I put the hose down, and fetch the ones still drying on the fence from earlier today. We quickly wrap them in the cottony warmth. They head inside. “Honey,” Pam says, “they can’t be naked like that. You know…” “I know,” I say. “I know.” And now I do.
The poet Maya Angelou once said, “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” Clearly, I do not have all the answers when it comes to the conundrums that parenting puts upon us. And now, I head into this new season more aware that my jaybirds are becoming fully fledged. But I think of their laughter, their squeals of delight while playing around the yard, and I can’t seem to silence the song just yet. Their nakedness is part of that freedom, that joy. They are still singing the song of childhood, and I want that chorus to last for a few more years. But I can promise you one thing–no more hose baths at night.
A dad has to start somewhere.