Grab the lunchroom crew and head out the school door.
Saunter south down the boulevard.
Parade through my house – it’s a short cut to town.
Check a phone. Suck down a slice.
Hop a fence, hit 7-Eleven and head to the local park.
It’s Friday at three; otherwise known as Eighth Grade Happy Hour.
Happy Hour at the park is this group’s time to shoot hoops, test soda geysers, play tag between the jungle gyms, ride community tricycles down the side street, laugh and let go.
They are kind to the younger kids, use mostly clean language and feel bad when they slip. They pick up their trash, try to be thoughtful and always leave by sundown. And although to the untrained eye the boys may come across as abrasive, aggressive or wild, they are never “Up to no good.”
So when an old lady stares, a sitter tells them they shouldn’t be there or a new parent calls the cops, my son doesn’t understand. Shy and mostly respectful of authority, my teen won’t speak up.
Instead, he retreats home; frustrated and confused because the park was never a forbidden space. It’s where he dug for treasure in the sand, perfected a monkey bar swing, slid into piled up wood chips again and again and pushed his baby brother on the swing.
Some days my son needs the playground as much as the little ones who claim it now. As his body morphs, mind bends, and spirit wrestles with the idea of growing up, the park, the courts and its playground are where he, and likely his buddies still feel safe.
Happy Hour is currently suspended. The park is closed, the caution tape up. And my son is missing his friends and their time together in an unfamiliar way. So please, when the barrier finally comes down and my teen and his Happy Hour crew hoot, holler and sprint onto the field, welcome them home.
And remember, the boys aren’t there to spoil your baby’s childhood, they are there to cling to their own.