Maybe it was the perfect weather — where the last cold evening had passed, but the first sweltering one had yet to arrive. Or perhaps it was the extra hint of eagerness (sweetened with politeness) in his voice. Or was I thinking of my friend, and how he’ll never again be asked, “Daddy, can you come play with me?”
I mentally spun through my too-frequent arsenal of replies…
Why don’t you play inside?
Didn’t you spend all day playing?
In a minute.
I’m making dinner.
Not right now.
…and for whatever reason, I holstered them, put down the dinner preparations and went outside.
Pleasantly surprised by my swift response, my 5-year-old honed in on his request, “Daddy, can you push me?”
He goes through cycles of rediscovery. In recent weeks he’d made the reacquaintance of his scooter, a new t-ball set, the climbing wall, and charging around the entire yard as a Power Ranger. His wandering glee had settled back onto the swings. I was secretly glad, as this activity required the minimum of physical or creative investment.
So I began to push — which of course begins with a large pull. Grabbing the lower parts of the chains with my palms, my fingers at the ready to keep him from sliding out onto the grass, I released/pushed down and forward, watching him fly down, then out, then up, then back again. This time just a soft and firm two-handed push.
We settled into a rhythm, the breeze of the cool, early evening and the breeze of my boy, swirling around my face and lifting my spirit. As I pushed and he swung, we began to talk.
I started as I often do, “How was your day?”
I read somewhere not to ask this of your child the moment you pick them up from school. They’re likely overwhelmed from the day and need to unwind in the comfort and familiarity of their backseat perch. Yet I got into the habit of asking when I thought he was too young to be overwhelmed. And now I ask to distract from whatever disagreement we had during the short (but often very long) trip from classroom to car. Or because I’m distracted and tired and can’t think of anything more engaging.
But whatever might have overwhelmed him from the day was long gone, as were any of our regular struggles that have the potential to derail the trip home at any moment. The breeze and the feel of my hands on his back seemed to open him up, and he answered. He answered and questioned and offered up seemingly all that was inside his rambunctious, curious mind. The topics were countless and the sequiturs non-existent.
“You can tell April Fool’s jokes any day of the year, even Christmas.”
“My belly button feels awkward.”
“I picked out the Hello Kitty gummies because girls like them. And they did!”
“I want girls to like me.”
“If you swing crooked, is it because your booty is crooked?” (laughs at his own joke)
“You need to raise the swing — it has shrunken.”
“Devin has a Star Wars book or a Clone Wars book. Or a Star Clone book!” (laughs again)
“This is wonderful. I love this.”
“If you swing high enough your feet can touch the sun…
…but then your feet will be on fire and you have to kick off your shoes really fast or go jump in the bath.”
Kind of like swinging, “How was your day?” never really gets you anywhere.
Unless you stop to touch, to push and to pull; to sincerely ask, and sincerely want to know. Then asking – like swinging, can get you to the sun and back, again and again and again.
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