Friday, January 30, 2015

Disrupt the Routine: Play in a Ditch

I do not remember a lot about my childhood. I hate this because what I do remember is all so good. Thankfully I was raised in a family of picture takers. I will occasionally thumb through a photo album or find a picture in a drawer that takes me back. I haven’t forgot everything. I remember birthdays and Christmas and the Bulls Hawks game where I got to see Michael Jordan play, but if you asked what I was doing on a Thursday after school back when I was ten… well, I just couldn't come up with a solid answer.

But there is this memory that has oddly lodged itself in my brain. A fun memory from an ordinary weekday that I have never forgotten. I was reminded of this memory last Thursday as I drove my three kids to pick up some pizza. I’ll never forget the time Dad stopped to let us play in a ditch.

I am terrible with ages and dates… actually anything involving numbers. But I believe I was about ten, which would make my brother, Blake, six at the time. We had just perused the Northgate Library after school on a cold winter day. (For the younger crowd, a library is a building that is full of shelves of paper books.) We had practically just buckled up in the station wagon when Blake pointed out that the ditch in front of Target had frozen over.

“I bet we could ice skate on that,” he exclaimed.

So, without a second thought my Dad pulls into the back side of Target’s parking lot and we jump out of the car like we had just arrived at Six Flags. The ditch is a large cement commercial drainage ditch with a flat bottom, and came complete with an underpass tunnel! Dad scaled down into the ditch to make sure the inch or so of water was frozen solid. When he gave his approval Blake and I ran down the concrete slope and made our way out onto the ice. We had no skates, but tennis shoes worked just fine. I know that time can move differently in the eyes of a child, but I would say we played probably over an hour in that ditch, and Dad wasn't sitting on the sideline; he was right there playing with us.

I look back on this now as a father in amazement. My Dad had every opportunity and reason to turn down our request to play in the frozen ditch, but he didn't. He stopped the regularly scheduled program to let two little boys slide around like fools in a waterway in front of a Target. And he didn't sit in the car and watch, he was skating as well. I just wonder what the Target customers thought as they drove by such a strange scene. Thankfully that did not detour my father from making a memory that I remember over twenty years later in vivid detail. All because my Dad said yes to a crazy childish request and made an adventure out of practically nothing.

As I thought this over driving towards the pizza place, I was struck by it. It made me wonder what I could do to disrupt our routine… as in right that moment. A minute later we passed by a park with a huge wooden playground. It was after 6PM and overcast; not to mention about 36 degrees. That’s when an idea came to me. Patience was at a wedding shower. There was nowhere to be, and nothing really to do.

“Hey guys,” I announced, “You know what we have never done?”

“What?” the kids in the backseat answered in unison.

“We have never had a winter picnic.”

There was a silence, as they seemed puzzled by my remark.

“What if we picked up the pizza and ate it outside in the cold at the park!”

The kids responded in an overwhelming yelp of agreement.

“It can be our first winter pizza picnic!” I exclaimed, “And then we could play on the playground in the dark, and maybe even look in the window of that old cabin that’s there. You know, it’s probably haunted.”

The children were bouncing up and down and all talking over each other at the same time.

So we picked up pizza and drinks. We went to the park and froze our butts off eating at the picnic table. But the kids were such good sports and just laughed it off. We ate quickly though, and just as the day faded to dark we traipsed to the playground. There we chased each other throughout the maze of wooden walls. Wesley was cautious at first (due to his poor vision) but once he surveyed the terrain he was off. They slid down the slides and swung on the swings. You would have never known it was cold or dark.

We finished up by reading the historical marker outside of Poe’s Tavern, which is actually a replica of the original one. I told the kids that I bet the cabin was haunted and offered a dollar to any one of them brave enough to go up on the porch and look into the window. The next fifteen minutes were spent as JulieAnna and Sawyer would take one step forward, freak themselves out, and then run back to me. Sawyer finally gathered enough nerve to get on the porch, but only managed to glance inside the window, as JulieAnna waited anxiously on the front step. All the while we are all laughing at the funny scene we were making.

As we drove quietly back home in the warmth of the car, my heart was overwhelmed with joy. I was so thankful we were able to disrupt our routine to have a winter pizza picnic. I only hope twenty years from now my children will still remember it. 

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