We were getting a little disconnected as a family. Maybe not just a little. Jane actually dissolved into tears of frustration recently when trying to explain why it bothered her so much that we hadn’t woken her up from the couch when we got home.
“Don’t we eat dinner together as a family anymore?”
We actually had done that just a couple of days earlier but without her. As a high-schooler with a boyfriend, she’s home less than she used to be. But in her defense, she was home that particular evening and I had fixed myself a salad without waking her or her sleeping brother. “Fend for yourself” was becoming the norm.
The next night, we played games late into the night with friends and didn’t arrive home until after midnight. Needless to say, our Saturday got a late start. I eventually marveled that even the dog hadn’t stirred by 10:30 and went to rouse my clan as my husband set out to prepare a brunch feast.
When I woke Daryl and said, “Come on, Daryl! It’s lunchtime!” he asked how it could possibly be lunchtime. “What about breakfast?”
“Dude,” I said, “it’s 10:40. We slept through breakfast!”
We had a bumpy start through meal prep and consumption. Jane wanted to spend time with Hal but Hal didn’t want to share his drawing pad or his colored pencils. Daryl had woken in a sour mood and didn’t like having to hand wash some dishes, although he chose that task over making waffles.
After lunch though, all three kids sat down with their respective pads of paper at the dining room table and used Jane’s gel pens to draw or color. Jane asked if I wanted to join them but I declined. “I have too much I need to do,” I said.
But when I reached my room with the laundry hamper, I spied my grown-up coloring book. Sensing something special was happening, I grabbed it and joined the kids. Jane was playing music on a bluetooth speaker and everyone colored quietly and talked and laughed and complimented each other’s art.
Eventually, Daddy joined us at the table as he sorted the mail. Knowing that I really did have work to do, I put my book aside and began sorting papers as well. When Daryl tired of coloring, he started going through books on his shelves that he didn’t want anymore. He’d bring them to the table and we’d all make decisions on them together.
“We aren’t getting rid of any books! Mrs. Smith says you can’t have too many books,” Hal stated confidently.
“Mrs. Smith has never been to our house.”
It was wonderful. “We should do this on Saturdays more often,” Jane said. I agreed.
Later in the afternoon, she and her Dad left to take care of some shopping. I asked Hal if he wanted to go for a walk. He was very behind on his miles for a Kids’ Marathon the boys are participating in and the treadmill gets boring.
Soon, the two of us were walking the 3.2 mile loop that my husband and I run when we want a “short” run. Hal likes to talk and prattled away as we walked. He pointed out slyly that he was still in his pajamas. I suggested that maybe long flannel pants weren’t the best choice for walking on a warm Spring day.
We talked about the dogs we saw, the trash along the way, the sky, the trees, the grass, people’s yards, the cars going by, the bear he thought he might have seen in the woods.
“There aren’t bears here,” I said.
“Well, I saw something move in there!”
“I’m sure there was something there but it wasn’t a bear.”
“Maybe a squirrel,” he said.
“Or a cat.”
“A cat?! What would a cat be doing in the woods?”
I shrugged. “Exploring. Hunting mice. Or birds.”
“Do cats eat birds?” he asked.
“Yes. Or at least, they like to kill birds.”
The walk was long but there was a nice breeze and clouds blocked the sun most of the way. We passed by some pigs in pens. There was too much in the way for us to see them but we could sure smell them! Hal decided he was glad he didn’t live near them.
We talked about a car that was covered with a tarp but also under a carport. We discussed various reasons the car owner might do that. We peeked at a pond in the distance and discussed the “private property” sign on the fence and what it meant. We studied the trees that had grown up under the power lines and had their tops cut off. We remarked on all the ant mounds and how large some of them were.
“Why did God invent ants anyway?” he asked.
“Well,” I said. “They are very good at breaking up the soil so plants can grow.”
“We don’t need ants to do that! We can do that ourselves,” he said.
I pointed out a large field of tall grass at one point. The wind was blowing the grass in big lazy waves. “It looks like a big grass sea!” he said with delight.
We passed by a house that had some dilapidated out buildings. “Do chickens live in there?” he asked.
“It looks like chickens may have lived in there before,” I said. “But it looks too rundown now. I don’t think it’s in use.”
“Look!” he said as we passed by the end of the building. “That part is really falling apart! It looks like it got hit by a tornado or maybe a hurricane or something!”
“I think it’s just the passage of time. They didn’t make repairs over time and now it’s falling apart. Look over there,” I said, pointing to an even more unstable structure behind it. “That one’s really old.”
“I bet a tornado came through a really long time ago. Like in the old days. Back in 1977.”
“Hey!” I said. “I was three years old in 1977! Those aren’t the old days!”
He looked shocked. “Wow! You were three in 1977! Hey, Hannah told me the other day that her favorite number is three and that’s how old you were way back in 1937!”
That started a game of “back in the old days, forward in the futurative days.” Hal would pretend he was an old man and say things like “back in the old days when I was three, we had a nice building for the chickens but back in… oops, I mean, forward in the futurative days when I was 52, it was worn down.”
He went through various topics. Like when a DVD just made sound, not pictures. I told him DVDs didn’t exist “in the old days.”
“Well, back in the old days, we just had a radio to listen to but forward in the futurative days, we have television.”
And so on and so on until he ran out of “old days” differences. That’s when he enlisted my help. I’d say the old days line and then he’d give the future one, sometimes restating my old days with his own twist, sometimes keeping it straight.
We compared phones on the wall to iPhones and film cameras to digital. He tried to claim that old days didn’t have cool sports cars like Camaros. I told him they had actually been very popular in the Seventies.
As we walked past a stranger mowing his yard with an obviously old push mower, Hal said, “Back in the old days, we just had a rundown old mower, but forward in the futurative days, we have a nice shiny one.” He pointed to the man. “I got that one from our friend there with the mower.”
I don’t spend a lot of one-on-one time with Hal. I’ve recently started working with him on his cello lessons, sitting and watching and paying full attention to him and his efforts rather than multi-tasking. But when I surprised him by showing up with Daddy at his Spring party the day before, he glanced up at me, showed no interest at all and rushed over to his dad to tell him what he had made. That stung. It stung a lot.
But then I got to spend 45 minutes walking with this wonderful little man we are raising. This quirky, oddball, inquisitive little man. And I was happy.
I honestly can’t say whether I enjoyed the family coloring party or the walk with Hal more. I just feel incredibly fortunate that I got to experience both. I didn’t get the big paper reduction project done that day, and quite frankly, I’m not sure how we’ll stay on schedule with our tidying plans, but I don’t care either.
This was special. And as Jane said, I want it to happen again.