Jon Michael is my youngest at 10. He has two best friends, Kyle and Darius, who often come to our house to hang out, eat from the fridge, play video games, you know all the current boys things. But they also come to see me, to hang and talk and ask me questions. They try to lure me into taking them fishing or hunting, shooting or riding on the four wheeler, cool, dirty guy stuff.
I can’t always break away from what I am doing to hang with the three musketeers’ but I usually help instigate outdoor activities. I make sure they have plenty of bb’s, flashlights or something to cook over the small fire pit out back.
A month or two ago the boys were over and decided they wanted to camp out in the back yard. It was going to be warm enough and I thought it a good idea. We dug out the cots and some sleeping bags, lit the fire pit and gave them the makings for hot dogs and smores. The perfect evening in so many ways.
That night my wife and I retired to bed around midnight. The boys had sat watching the fire embers burn down and made it to their cots about the same time, talking, laughing, telling stories.
It was about 1AM when I heard the first attack. The quiet of the night was broken by whoops and yells, bangs from rocks hitting the old wooden fence. Shouts of “get him,”“there he goes,” “watch out”- it was loud and crazy. My wife pushed my shoulder, I was already awake. “Get up and tell them to be quiet, to go to bed, egad,” she does not like to be woken at night.
I was laughing, laughing hard and deep down. “No,” I told her, “No I think we’ll let them be boys a while, they are safe.” They had spotted a possum and chased him across the back yard. He barely escaped they treachery and they were basking in their bravery and skill when I looked out back. For me, it was awesome!
It was maybe an hour later and it all erupted again only this time I joined in. I went out the front door and made the wide sweep around the porch meeting the possum on the drive with the boys on hot pursuit behind. I cornered the stinky looking possum, snatched him up and took him to the field across the street. I think the boys wanted to eat him or something, they were pretty bummed I let him go. I was just wanting to go to sleep now and I was close to being put outside myself for not reining them in. The boys headed back to their cots back-slapping and for the close throws and fast running each one provided to the “hunt”.
It got quiet again and I decided, now at about 3AM, to get up and check out back. I wanted to check on the fire pit and the boys. To my surprise one of the boys, Darius, was up on his cot in a kneeling position with a flashlight and a stick in his hand. The other boys were fast asleep.
I quietly walked out back and asked him why he was still up when the other boys were asleep. Through sleepy little brown eyes he said he was watching for the possum. I read it as a scared.
I convinced him the excitement was over and the possum and he was gone, we laid out his cot and sleeping bag and he laid down. I sat down in a chair between him and the yard, he was out fast. I hung out a few minutes reflecting on the night, morning, and to make sure he was asleep.
One more time, up at 4AM just to double check, I was having a hard time sleeping now. There sitting next to the fire pit poking at a small flame that had erupted was Jon-Michael. Again I made my way to the back of the yard and asked him why he was up. A cheerful little face looked up at me and said “isn’t it about time to get up, isn’t it almost morning?” “No,” it is not I told him, it is the middle of the night so get back in bed. He made his way to his cot and that was that. I went inside.
The adventures I remember as a young boy include a lot of adrenaline. They were times of exploration and discovery. Catching my first fish, seeing bear at our campsite, building things that rolled or slid or tumbled. I also remember the times I was scared at times I also remember feeling lost, alone and cold.
I want to make sure that I am always keen to those feelings in my kids or the ones I have charge over. I never want to miss the opportunity to offer comfort or council to the young guys I mentor. For me, today, I live for late nights chasing possum and the quiet times by the fire pit. Good, dirty, wholesome guy stuff.