Backyard Boys

Janell Burley Hofmann, January 29, 2012

To The Boys In Our Backyard,

I know someday I will glance out the window to check on you, my sweet sons, and I won’t see a crowded patch of grass filled with neighborhood children.  I won’t see the determined, innocent bravado of confident prepubescent boys.  In a flash, in a blink, unbelievably, I will see young men with beards and overhear stories of locker room antics, weekend parties, or casual relations told by unrecognizable deep voices.  I wonder if you’ll long for your boyhood, the way I will.  Or if you’ll only look ahead, to what’s cool, to what’s happening, to what’s next.

I wonder if you’ll remember the times you would stop an intense game to let your sisters pass through to the swing set.  I wonder if you’ll remember how beautiful of a gesture it was to allow the youngest boy in the game to be a hero on the last play.  I wonder if you’ll remember the day you suffered a cheap shot, and cried, sobbed, howled, drooled like a baby in front of your buddies.  If you’ll remember how they ran to you, picked you up, dusted you off, and silently vowed to never bring it up again.  I wonder if you’ll remember the honesty, the “tell-it-like-it-is-ness” of childhood.  How there is no sugar-coated euphemism for “You’re too slow to be a running back” or “We had to have him on our team last time.”

I wonder if you’ll know just how many apple slices, fruit snacks, or crackers you all really ate.  And if you’ll remember on the rare occasion that our house was too neat for loads of children to eat and drink, you all made do with just the hose outside.  I wonder if you’ll remember there were no referees, no coaches, no written rules, no adults involved.  I wonder if you’ll know that the backyard code of ethics you learned were developed instinctively from your own common sense, competitive spirit, and natural ability to be reasonable.  I wonder if you noticed that there were no fancy uniforms, expensive cleats, or lines on the field.  I wonder if you recognized that you were inches from slamming through the old wooden fence in the end zone, centimeters from being tackled on a brick walkway.  I wonder if you knew, like I did, that each day there would be an injury, an argument, quitting, then reconciliation.  Long before leadership courses, sensitivity training, and peer counseling, if you’ll remember that you learned fairness, justice, and teamwork in our backyard.

Someday, forever from now, I’ll be making dinner, folding laundry, or hustling in from work.  I’ll be focused, determined, consumed with worldly adulthood.  And something will stop me. Perhaps a passing glimpse of the backyard, the distant sounds of children, or the smell of mud and earth that will draw me toward the window.  And with the fierceness and honesty of life, there I will be, with no you.

And I hope and pray, that if I’ve done this right, the memories that will flood my body will be those of your playfulness, your innocence, your childhood, forever etched on my soul.  In this moment there is only deep peace, for I have always known that it is the everyday and the ordinary that make life real.  And my heart will swirl with love, as I think of you, finding the divine, in your own backyard.

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