It was a cold night, but not so cold that the boys didn’t insist on going barefoot outside. We were whittling away the sneakily long hours between dinner time and bed time by milling about in the driveway, playing with toys, old and new, and waiting for my oldest, Jacob, to finish drawing train tracks with a piece of bright pink chalk. I watched the last of the soft December light drop away behind our neighbors’ houses to the west. The jagged silhouettes of palm trees against the orange sky is one of my favorite Florida hallmarks. Cool winter evenings are pretty much the reason people choose to live in Florida. The air is crisp and there’s a certain quietness that descends with the sun. Being able to enjoy the chilly night air in a long-sleeved shirt and shorts is also a plus.
In addition to the boys’ bare feet, each of my three children were dressed in their own individual and climatically and/or stylistically inappropriate way. Jacob had on long pants that were several inches too short for his gangly 6-year-old legs. In fact, they might have been meant for his little brother, but found their way onto the wrong pair of legs somehow during the day that was. Bennett had on snug-fitting, red pajama pants and a long-sleeved shirt he’d been wearing for who knows how many days. Olivia, the 1-year-old, was careening around in a short-sleeved Moana shirt, leggings, and purple socks.
It was that weird week between Christmas and New Year’s when anything goes.
As soon as Olivia was set loose, she hurtled toward the street, giggling as I gave chase. Eventually, I gave up the Sisyphean task of catching her and carrying her back toward the garage and resigned myself to walking along a few steps behind her as she jogged down the middle of our cul-de-sac. I grabbed my new Captain America fidget spinner, a Christmas gift from the boys, out of my pocket and twirled it in my hand as we made our way down the street.
Naturally, the boys seized on our unplanned jaunt with characteristic tenacity. One of their favorite things to do in December is look at decorations. And though Christmas had passed, most of the haphazard light displays in our neighborhood were still hanging on. The blow-up Scooby Doo, Santa in a fishing boat triumphantly displaying the largemouth bass he just caught, and the ginormous snow man on the corner were still standing tall.
It never ceases to amaze me how kids can find such unfettered joy and wonder in the simplest things. From an adult’s perspective (or at least from this adult’s perspective) their ability to squeeze every last drop of extraordinary out of the objectively ordinary can be exhausting in the moment. In retrospect, though, it seems both miraculous and weirdly heartbreaking. Their relentless earnestness is so foreign it’s hard to wrap one’s head around.
We walked and walked. The boys talked and shouted about nothing at all and Olivia made a break for the multi-colored lights lining the sidewalk in front of this one house around the corner. I have to pick her up and carry her the rest of the way every time for fear she will leave our family behind for good in favor of the other family with more festive decorating flair. After admiring the Christmas dragon up close one more time, we traced our steps back along the sidewalk, back around the corner, and toward home. As I held onto a wriggly and resistant Olivia, I laid her back, cradling her like a newborn. This usually makes her laugh a little and forget, at least temporarily, her urge to escape. It worked. She smiled and looked up at the stars in the now pitch-black sky. Jacob walked beside me and Bennett lagged a few steps behind, his tired little legs struggling to keep up, as we looped around the circle (at Jacob’s direction) to make the return journey last as long as possible.
This time, though, I couldn’t blame him. I had to admit it was kind of nice: the cool air, the dark sky, the twinkling lights, the Scooby Doo blow-up. It was nice to just be for a moment. Maybe there is hope for this jaded adult yet.