I have been surprised by the many unexpected joys of being a parent. I realized another one two nights ago when we were at our neighbor's house watching the Oregon State/University of Oregon "civil war" football game.
These neighbors have two daughters that Abe likes to play with. He often refers to them collectively as "the neighbor kids" even though he knows both of their names very well. When he was smaller, they liked to baby him, and as he's gotten older, they've both been very sweet about including him in their games and being patient and forgiving when he discovers how fun it is to pull their long beautiful hair.
This family recently refinished their basement, which is where we were watching the football game. Okay, most everyone else was watching the game except for me. I, instead, found myself mesmerized by watching the kids play in this rumpus room of a basement. Abe is now officially old enough to go off on his own to have adventures with his buddies. We can actually sit with grown-up friends for extended periods while he's off playing.
It was a surprising realization that, to Abe and "the neighbor kids," I speak in Charlie Brown adult wah-wah-wah voice. I have become peripheral to the imaginative games they're creating. This made me so happy, truly happy.
I was happy because I was lucky enough as a kid to have parents who let us roam. Some of my best childhood memories involve the neighbor kids on my street exploring the woods near my best friend's house or even more, the many Sunday nights after church that we would all go over to someone's house. The adults would be in the kitchen or living room doing...whatever, I'm still not sure. I just heard them as background noise to the games that all the kids would make up in the rest of the house, from simple hide-and-seek to the more complicated "sardines" and scary games like "bloody Mary" that our parents probably wouldn't have approved of (it wasn't that bad, just basically a very involved ghost story where we'd convince each other that we'd seen a headless woman in the mirror).
Every Sunday night during church for several years, I'd whisper to my mom, "Are we going anywhere after this?" always hoping that we were getting together with some other families, which we often did. Abe has now started to do the same thing. Last night, Ted had fallen asleep with Abe in his tiny toddler bed, but Abe was laying there beside his dad just singing at the top of his lungs (how Ted can sleep through this, I have no idea). I came into his room and knelt down beside him on the floor. His eyes lit up. With his thumb still in his mouth, he said, "Mom? What can we do?" He was ready to go. Ready.
Life truly is a cycle. I have so loved watching my childhood repeat in the life of my son. Who cares about watching a dumb football game when you get to hit the "play" button of your childhood in the imaginative games played by your own child and his friends when they don't know you're watching?