The three of them move in a swirl around the keen brick-patterned pavement, shuffling their feet at what they'd call a run, and losing control of their vocal chords — due in part to the harsh disruption caused by their pace and in part to the ecstasy they don't even realize they're feeling. Of all the wealth smeared around the Illini Country Club today, any eyewitness will inform you; the ones living it up the most were under the age of seven.
One, to the naked eye, dons a Batman shirt. Another pound-for-pound champion grits her teeth and growls so ferociously her diaper-equipped swimsuit nearly bursts. The third, the team's leader, patrols his troops as they employ (giant) leaves for cover to make a move on the base of whomever. Little do we know, the first isn't merely commercializing the Dark Knight, he is Batman, or so he tells my co-worker Brita. The reason for the team's mission is simple: dinner is boring. The outcome of the operation is staggering: pure, sweet, holy innocence — on display in front of the most primped and toxic crowd in town.
That isn't to say these kids were causing mayhem at a packed restaurant; they weren't. There were maybe three or four other occupied tables at the time, but these kids put on a show. And I — manning my post at the tiki bar awaiting 40 men to finish a round of golf — had the best seat in the house. At first the parents in the situation acted, perhaps as they should have, against the three children, spouting empty threats and offering inconsequential countdowns. Eventually though, the urge to unwind prevailed. They let the kids do their own thing for a while, as long as they weren't crowding anyone else's space.
Meanwhile, these two boys began falling deep into their imaginations and the girl (the youngest of the three) followed blindly while working to enjoy herself as much as possible. Before long, the adults revert their attention to the lot and observe an unprovoked bliss. Instead of inhibiting their children, they reached for their cameras. They wanted to capture the moment. If only.
The kids strutted their stuff and began to show off with wild antics as my manager comes outside to talk to a nearby couple to make sure they weren't pestered. Eventually the digital version of this phenomenon is sufficiently chronicled and the kids wound down a bit before the group leaves. These are the kind of nights that, as a kid, you forget about, until you see someone else doing it when the world comes back around.
When I was a kid, I was adventurous. Sufficiently rambunctious, I was a leader to an extent and a follower to some degree. In other words, I was a boy. I did stuff I was told not to. I came home with dirty feet. I went out the next day with dirty feet. I liked bugs, I liked digging. I liked trees, I wanted a house in one. I feared strangers and craved the unknown, I prepared for the worst with the utmost confidence that I could get out of it. I ate clover, I sold lemonade, I plotted, I carried out, I lied, I cheated, I stole, I broke, I fell, I cried, I came home and I lived to fight another day.
But today I stood still. Today I wore a nametag. Today I sold things for someone else to profit from, unlike that lemonade Pam and I cooked up way back when. Today, in my uniform, I watched someone else lead a carefree life while I pondered how I would be getting home from work. I became envious of the legs Batman was running around on; they were so tiny, at their thickest point the width of my wrist. More importantly, they were going to get so much bigger. I'd be willing to bet he wished he were my size. I bet he envies all the cool teenager stuff I do. And I envied that fact about him. More than anything, I wanted to be an old man and tell him how much I envied him. How he should appreciate being young, and that his whole life was ahead of him. As if, somehow, he would hear the words differently than I did when I was that age.
Every boy at some point figures out they're going to grow up. We see the fiction in Peter Pan and begin placing direction in our lives. Others do it for us, too. Because well, unfortunately we need it. Schools, churches, friends and family all start providing living standards we can't choose. That direction takes us away from our innocence, burying our creative instincts, so that we have to dig for them if we wish to use them later in life. Some are good at digging them up, and others have them shallowly buried, but if you think you can think like a kid, you're wrong. Because I said so, if you will.
Every guy wants to be Atticus Finch, with a steel nerve and a perfected moral code. To understand how kids think, even as an adult. We want to have good values, and know how to instill them into our children. There is something so fulfilling in teaching. Just the feeling that you've provided another person or group of people with helpful tools and information, it's enough to get high off. But some things you just can't teach, and being a child is one of them.
Today I remembered how to be a kid. If only I could remember how to have the time.