Like my mother used to say to me, so I say to my son: “If you’re going to sit around and read on such a nice day, at least take the book outside!”
This kid is a reader. He surprised us all by teaching himself to read by age five. He went in to kindergarten reading chapter books and finished kindergarten tearing through anthologies… of Calvin and Hobbes. (I immediately realized allowing him to read those books was either absolutely brilliant or completely idiotic of me.)
But he doesn’t move much. He doesn’t decide to go outside on his own much. So when I shoo him out he rises without looking up at all. He’ll keep his book at eye level and stand up, walk to the door (sometimes tripping over a toy or bumping into someone or thing) and resume his reclined position on a chair outside, having never skipped a word.
Sometimes just being outside with the book is enough to appease me. Other times it’s not, so I tell him it’s time to put it down and actually be active and interact with people. One day last summer was one of those days. I told him he could help me weed the vegetable garden or he could go play.
Then while I was weeding by myself, I could I overhear him playing with his two younger brothers in the yard. Now those two boys never have to be sent outside. Athletic and active, they are in the yard as long as the sun is out, kicking, throwing, climbing, riding. Just as their older brother was always drawn to books, these two have always been attracted to action. “Mommy, tell me ALL the sports,” E said at age 4. “I want to play ALL of the sports.”
Despite their differences, they still admire many things about their nerdy-cool older brother: his book smarts, his drawing abilities and his superhero knowledge in particular. As I worked, I could hear G leading them in a rollicking game of pretend “laser-saber” fights and the younger boys were eating it up. “See?” I thought to myself, “Wasn’t it so smart of me to force him to play?”
Later they set up the sprinkler and I could hear the three boys having fun together while getting wet and muddy. My always-inquisitive six year old Z asked how the sprinkler worked. G, my knowledgeable twelve year old, began explaining. I smiled, once again congratulating myself for getting the geek and the jocks happily interacting. I know G’s patience level with the younger guys can be pretty low sometimes so I felt proud of him for taking the time to explain things for them. I tuned back into their conversation and heard, “And then, when the water travels from the hose to the top of the sprinkler, the pressure causes the hamster inside to start running in circles and . . .”
“MOM???” Z called.
“NO,” I answered, anticipating his question.
“I was going to ask if you if there’s a hamster—“
“I know. No.”
Despite G’s temporary foray into playing the role of Calvin’s Dad (I knew letting him read those books was going to come back to haunt me), the boys continued to play really nicely together all afternoon. They even began filming their own superhero movie. As I was making dinner, I heard a costumed Z run into the dining room and fall down, hard. I cringed, waiting for the crying—and instead heard G help him up and ask, “Are you okay?” I peeked into the dining room to see his reaction.
He brushed himself off, sniffed and nodded.
“The upside is that the shot looked really cool because you actually fell!” G enthused. It was exactly what Z needed to hear to shake it off and get back to filming.
This time I pat myself on the back without regret. Sure, my geek-child will someday look back with fondness at the time that he was able to wile away so many summer hours lost in a book and my jock-boys will reminisce the same way about hours of unadulterated outside play. But those won’t be the times they’ll reminisce about together at holidays as adults. Those won’t be the stories they tell their own children about. These times that they played together, the geek and the jocks, afternoons filled with teasing, filth, joy, injury and encouragement… those are the experiences that shape a childhood and strengthen the bonds of brotherhood.