On a recent school-free weekday not long ago, Mrs. Dude took our boys to a nearby park to burn some of their seemingly endless supply of fuel. As I was working in my pleasant 72-degree office, thinking about chasing them around the vast mecca of molded plastic chutes and ladders slowly baking under the 85-degree California sun, I can’t say I was completely disappointed to miss that scorching outing. But a key lesson I’ve learned about parenting, and life in general, is that we often never know what we are missing out on by not doing something. As it turned out, I missed something seemingly big that day. How big? was the real question.
I can see out to the driveway from my home office’s shaded window and usually jump up excitedly, in a way that would make Pavlov proud, when I see Mrs. Dude and the boys return each afternoon. On this day, however, my 5-year-old made a beeline inside before I could even stand up. When the Little Dude bounded into the house he was beyond excited to tell me that he’d had an unplanned rendezvous at the park that day.
Dada, guess who I saw at the park today?
No, guess again…
No! I saw Ethan, Braden and Jack from my school!
Oh, that’s awesome.
And guess who else?!
Come on, Dada. He’s in Radiator Springs. No, I saw Julie from my class.
(I was happy that he mentioned someone I actually knew, as the boys he’d mentioned first are in other classes and strangers to me.)
How exciting! What’d you all do?
We played on the swings and rode bikes and ran for a super long time! And guess what else?!
Ummm, you went down the slides?
Wrong! Slides are for babies. Guess what: Julie is my girlfriend now.
::The sound of a record player screeching to a halt engulfs my mind::
This was not at all what I was expecting from my almost 5 ½ year old’s day out. Thoughts of an imminent wedding rushed into my head before I realized that was highly improbable because neither the bride nor groom would be able to sign the marriage license because they don’t know how to write their names yet.
|Look before you leap|
As he smiled his widest grin I’d seen in a while, I thought about how I hadn’t expected to hear about girlfriends for at least another half-dozen years. I know people say that kids are growing up faster these days due to technology and other societal changes, but explaining the birds and bees was not on my immediate radar, nor should it be.
I’m a planner. I’m not into surprises and have the kind of (cursed) mind which races through every possible outcome of a situation before it even begins to unfold. Whether my suppositions are right or wrong is another matter, I just don’t want to be left unprepared with an agape mouth.
So flying without my well-broken-in net, I asked my son what he thought having a girlfriend meant. I anticipated an answer somewhere along the lines of love or kissing or, at the bare minimum, hand-holding. Plus, whatever the reply, I had to be ready with a quip or an anecdote or something brilliant to suppress my suddenly queasy gut about these uncharted waters we were about to dive into.
My son looked at me, still beaming, and I watched his expression shift as he looked for an explanation that he could easily express. No words came out of his mouth for what felt like an eternity before he finally said something that shouldn’t have seemed as unexpected as it did.
I don’t know.
And just like that I knew my little boy was back, as my nerves began to slowly unwind and return to their normal operating functions.
Him: Can I go play now?
Me: Of course. Go have fun.
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