“You’re going to be smokin’ hot in that outfit,” said the sharp and matter-of-fact 7 year-old we’ll just call ‘Johnny.’ “It’s going to be like, over 100 degrees.”
I struggled to stifle an amused laugh, afraid to break the magical spell of boyhood playing out in front of me. Something about it was just so… perfect. This morning I was privileged to witness the forging of friendships.
It’s the first day back to school for my 5 year-old son Nathan. He’s been talking about it for weeks. His mom took him out shopping a couple days ago to help pick out a cool new backpack because, well, lets face it—his red “School is Cool” pack just begged for merciless mockery. The one he picked out is a metallic sort of sky blue. I would have gone with black or camoflauge or even orange, but hey—at least it wasn’t pink.
We didn’t get him new shoes this year. My wife and I take turns feeling marginally guilty about this, but I continue to insist that the large basket full of hand-me-down shoes we’ve been collecting from people over the years is really quite sufficient. Nathan thought so too. Yesterday he asked if he could go to sleep in the pair he picked out so he wouldn’t forget to wear them to school today. That’s my boy.
I woke up this morning because the entire family, all three of them, were pushing and poking me. My wife thought this was a funny thing to do, and because she was laughing, our youngest son decided it was funny and was laughing too. Nathan poked me from beside the bed, fully dressed and already wearing his sky blue backpack. “Come on Daaad,” he urged with a smile. “We’re going to miss the school bus!”
A few minutes later and in a state of quasi-panic, I was stumbling out the door wearing who knows what, while Nathan led the way to the car. “Please make coffee!” I managed to croak at my wife before staggering into the car and peeling out.
When we pulled into the library parking lot, a kid-sized version of pandemonium broke out.
“Nathaaaaaaaaan!!!” shrieked an enthusiastic classmate named ‘Camden’ with charismatic glee, breaking away from a group of three small boys already waiting for ‘Lucy,’ the school bus. He never stopped running towards us, arms outstretched, until Nathan met him halfway, giggling loudly and jumping every few steps.
Nathan managed to get the first words out—
“Look at my new backpack!
“WOWW!!!” Every word was exclamation.
“I didn’t get a new backpack,” it was Camden’s turn, “but I got a new lunch box and sweatshirt!!” Nathan was genuinely enthralled at this revelation, responding without hesitation to Camden’s invite to feel the soft fleece lining of his hoody. This is the point where Johnny jumped into the conversation with his unique mixture of meteorological and fashion advice to the tune of “smokin’ hot.” These kids were making my morning.
While the 5 year-old, 6 year-old and 7 year-old launched into a rabbit-trail debate over which direction the smokin’ hot sun was rising from in it’s quest to scorch the earth, I watched the other 5 year-old in the group studying Nathan with immense concentration. He seems to be the kid who doesn’t say much until he has something really important to say. So far the only silent party, he suddenly became a legitimate participant. Pointing with surprise, his small furrowed eyebrows shot up as he Interrupted everyone and shouted—
“Nathan lost a tooth!”
Instantly, Nathan was surrounded, three-foot gawkers elbowing their way close to behold the wonder of the first lost tooth. Perhaps because there were a few other contenders for toothless popularity, their conversation moved with frightening speed to the topic of money. Specifically, how much? When Nathan reported that the Tooth Fairy had traded him fifty cents for his hardware, three parents looked directly at me and scowled. I shrugged, mostly because we’re poor, it’s the first tooth of a mouthful, and because we’ve settled on a fiscally reasonable policy that dictates bigger teeth will get a bigger payout. This one was dinky.
My attention was brought back to the young circle of friends when Camden, the six year-old, called their babbling conversation to attention with an authoritative “Now listen guys--!” And they listened. And as easily as a river encountering a boulder, the current of their conversation coursed in a different direction, and then another, until the meaning behind their words and their laughter had been lost out of sight, just downstream of adulthood and beyond the reach of care.