Tears streamed down his reddened cheeks as he sat holding his knees against his chest as tightly as his little arms could manage.
“I hate being little!”
Andy’s father plopped down next to him and thought about what to say while resisting the urge to rub the wavy locks of blonde hair that seemed to always look perfect no matter how messy his clothes were at the end of the day.
“I think I’m supposed to tell you how great being six years old is, but to be honest I bet it kind of sucks sometimes.”
Andy’s head shot up to look into his father’s before delivering a very serious reprimand.
“Mom says that’s a bad word.”
“Oh… yes. I’m sorry. I meant stinks.”
Andy’s eyes dropped again as he rested his chin on his knee.
“It’s not fair. They said I’m too short to ride the rides. I never get to do anything fun.”
His dad nearly reminded him that he was wearing a t-shirt from the Mets game they had gone to last week, but if his son saw the smirk that clung to his face he would become more upset. When the smile finally released its grip he started plucking blades of grass, thinking about what to say.
“I know that right now all you can think about are the things you don’t get to do yet, but I bet you didn’t know that six is a very special age.”
Six years with his dad had taught Andy that this was probably a trick, but he just had to know why. He waited as long as he could before asking. The silence lasted about ten seconds, but for a six year-old that’s as close to eternity as it gets.
His father leaned in and began to whisper.
“When you get older you will have your whole life to do all of the things you want to do so badly right now. You will have years and years to ride rollercoasters, drive, eat ice cream for dinner, and stay up as late as you want. But you lose some of the best things about being a kid when you grow up.”
Andy was hooked the second her heard “ice cream for dinner”. He lifted his head and stared into the green eyes that matched his own, only bigger. The world was still filled with so many mysteries. It was rare for adults to share their secrets, and he wanted to know them all.
“What? What will I lose?” he asked in a pouty whisper.
“Well… You won’t get to go trick-or-treating any more. And… Adults don’t get recess. But the biggest thing you will lose is the freedom to make a lot of mistakes. Right now you’re learning and exploring new things so when you mess up it’s not such a big deal. You don’t get that very often once you’re grown. When I mess up I can get in big trouble.”
Andy didn’t know what to do with this information. He desperately wanted to know how much longer he had to trick-or-treat, but also could not believe that the one who swatted his bottom when he made bad choices could get in trouble too. Fearing the answer to the first question he decided to ask about the second.
“You get in trouble?
His dad’s smirk returned in an instant.
“Sometimes. I try not to, but when an adult makes a mistake there are consequences. If I drive too fast the policeman can give me a ticket and make me pay. Or if I make a mistake with mom, sometimes she gives daddy a special kind of timeout that he does not like very much.”
Andy forgot to whisper at this shocking revelation, “Mom puts you in timeout too!?”
Andy’s father began laughing and before he knew it, was lying on his back clutching his aching stomach. An adult’s laugh is an open invitation to join for any child and soon Andy had flopped on his dad’s chest squealing with delight. After a few false stops Andy’s dad gathered enough composure to look at the face only inches away and answer his question.
“Sometimes buddy. But only when I deserve it. What you will learn as you get older is that life has a lot of give and take. Someday you’ll get a chance to have all the things you want so badly right now, but you will have to give some things up to get them. You may get to go to Disneyland, but you might have to mow some lawns on your Saturdays to pay for it.”
Andy pushed himself up and put on his serious face.
“I will mow the lawn if you take me to Disneyland!”
“I’m sure you would buddy. That’s an easy choice. They won’t always be like that though. Sometimes there will things that you want so bad, but they are not worth what they cost. It’s my job to teach you how to choose. You need to learn the value of things like family, honesty, kindness, friendship, hard work, and even things that that people think they know the value of, like money and popularity. That way when you are old enough and the time comes for you to decide what to give up and what to keep, you will make good decisions, decisions that will make you happy for a very long time.”
Andy thought about everything his dad told him. It seemed pretty simple.
“I think if we had ice cream for dinner I would be happy for a long time.”
This set off another round of laughing that quickly turned into a tickle war. Andy was no match for his dad, but he did not mind losing so much. The war only lasted a few moments before a voice called from the back porch causing an immediate cease-fire.
“What is going on back here?”
Both boys turned and looked to see Andy’s mother leaning against the frame of the back door with her arms crossed. The silence of being caught with a hand in the cookie jar hung in the air.
“Honey? I thought you were going to mow the yard?”
Andy’s dad sat up.
“I was just about to. We were just discussing… dinner options.”
The tone of her “Mmm hmmmm” made it clear that she was not buying it.
She stood up straight and let her arms fall before saying, “Andy, come inside now so your dad doesn’t have anyone to play with when he should be working.”
With a wink and a smile, Andy’s dad nodded for him to go. He stood up and headed to the garage while his son raced to his mother.
Just before the clap of the back door closing he heard his son’s still excited voice ask, “Mom? Are you gonna put dad in time out?”
Suddenly he started wondering the same thing.
Copyright © 2013 Adam Drake