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boys on the sidewalk

A number of years ago I had a unique opportunity to spy on my two sons without them knowing I was anywhere around; something that most mothers can relate to, but that I rarely experienced. This was during one of the more stressful periods of my work career and my day off happened to fall during the week; while the boys were in school. They were eight and six years old then; an age range that I’ve always been very fond of and I’ve often stated that my favorite age was when I was seven years old. For some reason I remember my second grade teacher, Mrs. Pelton, more than any other teacher from those early grade school years. She was raised in some part of South Africa and told stories of riding ostriches as a kid; her being under five feet in height I had little trouble imagining the scenes.

The grade school where the boys were enjoying class was only a few blocks from our house and I made plans to meet them at the school and walk them home; only they weren’t let in on the secret. I arranged it so that I would arrive at the school in plenty of time to see all the kids leaving as the final bell rang, only I decided that I was going to hide from them and surprise them once they came out of the school’s entrance.

Once I arrived at the school, I scoped out all the possibilities and I noticed that the school had two main entrance/exit doors; one in the front and one on the side of the building. I made an educated guess which door they would be coming out of and had a contingency plan in place in case I was wrong. I then found a position alongside the building, just out of sight of the doors, to await the final bell and the kids storming out of the building. I didn’t think, and seldom do in these instances, about what it might look like for me to be hiding alongside of the school building and if it had been today, the swat team might have poured out of the building and surrounding trees and thrown me in the paddy wagon. But those were simpler times back in the late 80’s.

It was a beautiful, sunny fall day and I could hardly stand the wait. The feeling was the same feeling I felt whenever I was anticipating something exciting; like the feeling you have on Christmas morning before mom and dad are awakened. I was nervous and my heart was pounding; I was almost giddy with anticipation. I tried to act nonchalant and cool while I waited and luckily no one approached me to ask me what I was up to. Finally, the bell rang and I crouched into position.

As the little grade school kids poured out of the school building, I kept a sharp eye on each kid, trying to remember just what the boys had worn to school that morning. I didn’t want to screw this up and knew that they might recognize me before I did them. They weren’t the first ones out, nor were they the last, but I finally spotted them. They were walking side by side and talking; about who knows what. At first I was going to jump out from my hiding place and scare them, and enjoy the looks on their faces while we laughed about the trick I had pulled, but then I decided to just lay back and follow them; at a safe distance.

I took the risk that they wouldn’t turn around and notice me following them, and my risk paid off; they never turned around. I followed them for a few blocks, getting closer to them as we walked. I saw them find sticks along the way and pick them up and throw them, and they kicked rocks down the sidewalk, and I fully expected them to break into a skip; and if they had, I believe I would have too. I could hear their laughter and conversation, but never got close enough to hear exactly what they were saying. Their demeanor told me that they didn’t have a care in the world. I was enjoying them as much as they were enjoying the day, and it took me back to the hundreds of times I had walked home from school with various friends. Their carefree attitudes had rubbed off on me. Work was the last thing on my mind.

Finally, I couldn’t take the suspense any longer and I walked up behind them, placed a hand on both of their shoulders, and said, “Boo!” I reached out to hug them and they reacted like I thought they might, at first pushing me away, but soon they were laughing and chastising me for scaring them. We walked the rest of the way home together and I couldn’t wait to tell their mom what I had pulled off. For a moment there, and as an antidote to the stress of grown up life, I was a kid again. And it was glorious