From the swings at our neighborhood park, you can see the medieval-ish silhouette of Saint Stephen Presbyterian Church. When Gordon was a young Boy Scout, his troop met in a small house on the church property. Gordon remembers they all called it “Fort God,” and it’s easy to see why:
It was dusk on Monday evening, and we were still looking for ways to spend the one extra hour of daylight, so off to the park we walked, much to the delight of Drew and Madeline, who, for the purposes of this post, will be referred to as The Beef. (I might or might not have time to explain that one later.)
The swings are always the first stop in any park itinerary, as I’m sure you’re aware. Drew was asking for me to push him BIG, and The Beef was sliding down the toddler slide like a slab of raw beauty, Gordon leading her by the hand down the gentle incline.
“Mommy,” said Drew. “Is dat a church?” He was pointing. When I had told him yes, he asked if he could go there one day “when I get older, to go yook around.” Why did he want to yook around? I wondered.
“What do you think is inside that big church?” I asked.
“Racecars,” he said with conviction. He also suggested the possibility that we might encounter a train and even an airplane. Surely such a large structure could accommodate the likes of Carswell Airforce Base.
With our non-winter weather and my increasing claustrophobia, the park has been the default destination for any random 30 minute time slots I find laying around here and there like dust bunnies. It’s a fire drill: we have half an hour between now and the next nap or the next trip to Target or the next meal, and I sound the alarm. To the park! Get your shoes on! No, that doesn’t mean you can pee in the bushes. STOP IT RIGHT NOW!
Last week we were playing at the “window” underneath the slide. This is universally accepted as a “kitchen” window by both Drew and The Beef, and we take turns ordering and preparing all sorts of delicacies with wood chips from the ground.
“What kind of ice cream do you have?” I ask.
“Strawberry, vamilla (not a typo), orange, blue, and brown.”
“I hope brown is chocolate,” I say. “I’ll take some of that.”
Drew reaches down, grabs a handful of wood chips, and dumps them on the sill of the window. I slide them slowly off the ledge, making smacking noises with my mouth.
“Yummy,” I say. “That is so good.”
“What else you yike, Mommy?” he asks.
“Let’s see…I think I would like some chips and salsa.”
Drew stalls for a minute, looks over his shoulder and faces me squarely, saying, “I sorry, Mommy, we don’t have any chips and salsa.”
“But this is pretend. You can pretend anything you want.”
He shrugs and suggests that maybe I would like a cheese sandwich instead. Apparently they have plenty of those. The Beef agrees.
Now that he’s older, Drew loves to do the climbing wall at the park. The course is a series of easy hand holds leading up a modest incline to a second play level above. But for Drew, he might as well be free soloing the Northwest face of Half Dome. His knuckles are tight, white; his body pulses with adrenaline. It’s obvious that success means a lot to him. It is also obvious that he’s only three feet off the ground.
When he reaches the end he cries, “Yook, Mommy! I did it!”
I want to shimmy up after him and kiss his cheek, but I restrain myself. I tell him we have five minutes left before we have to leave. “But I don’t want to yeave!” he cries, with even more conviction than when he triumphed over the wall. I know…I know. Next time we’ll do it again, I promise. Next time, next week. There’s always a next time.
Until there’s not.
Fort God has watched its fair share of little boys growing up swinging, climbing and pretending in Tillery Park, and some of those little boys come and bring their own children now — like Gordon. And, with the caveat of having new equipment installed, I hope Drew will do the same thing someday too, wrangling his hyperactive son between slide and swing and silliness.
Just not yet.
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