It was a hot August afternoon in Kansas. The sweltering air and lack of rain had sucked the life out of most things, leaving flowers to wilt and grass to dry up as the summer heat intensified, signaling the looming start of school.
My four children, however, perhaps feeling restless after hours of sitting in front of the television and eager to frolic in the great outdoors, or perhaps uninterested in doing the housework I had threatened to make them do in lieu of “iCarly” reruns, had chosen this bright, hot day to play outside.
I watched them as they scurried to the backyard, not so much to admire their whimsical spirits as to make sure none of them slipped back into the house undetected.
Satisfied that my little dears were deeply engaged in a game born purely from their fascinating imaginations, I began folding laundry, glancing out the window every now and then to count heads.
It did not take long for our son to run back in.
“I need my glasses!” he exclaimed before running back out to join his sisters. I could not believe his enthusiasm for outdoor play. Almost contagious, really, were I not afraid of melting in the 106-degree heat index.
I had barely resumed my work when a daughter burst inside and asked, “Do we have a magnifying glass?”
I marveled at the group’s curiosity. The fact that they could spend so much time clustered in one spot and still long to explore nature more deeply was inspiring.
“Of course, honey,” I replied, “I saw one under the sofa three days ago.”
Off she ran, eager, I gathered, to examine the world in detail.
I have never been the kind of mom who mourns the start of school, the kind of mom who cries because she no longer gets to spend every waking hour micromanaging the cognitive growth and stimulation of people who naturally gravitate to the nearest electronic device, given 15 unattended seconds. But in that moment I found myself sorry to see the lazy days of summer draw to a close as I watched my children, unencumbered by the burden of classes and homework, enjoy the hot, breezy afternoon.
Until one of them — who wishes to remain anonymous — came running in and asked, “Do we have any matches?”
I took a closer look outside to find the other three standing in a semi-circle around a stack of dried grass and small sticks. The group’s uncharacteristic tolerance of the blazing sun … the urgent need for a magnifying glass … suddenly it all made sense.
And that is when I forgot all that crap I just said about the beauty of the lazy days of summer and called my little pyros inside. It was time to mark school supplies.
For though I love my children intensely, it is clear they still have much to learn, and from people far more qualified than I am.
(Dedicated to all teachers, with gratitude.)