Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Release the Beasts

original run date May 15th
Chariton Valley News Press

Ahhhhhh – the sounds of summer. The voices of kids set free started ringing through our open office windows last week. More voices will be added this week as all the Salisbury schools “release the beasts” for some summer fun.
As a kid growing up, my favorite thing about summer vacation was the fact that once school was out I could officially ditch shoes. We didn’t have flip flops and socks were hot so the shoes were thrown in the back of the closet.
By the end of the first week out of school, I could walk across the gravel driveway without flinching. After week two, running was a breeze as the bottoms of my feet had developed into soft, leathery soles that rocks couldn’t penetrate. The only thing that ever seemed to penetrate my feet was an occasional nail, which is why Mom never let our tetanus shots go overdue. As I grew older it also meant the chore list grew longer. There were more animals to feed, hog waterers and feeders to keep clean daily and at least one building was due for a fresh coat of paint.
It’s no wonder I was in such good shape as a kid. I was moving from sun up ‘til sundown. If I wasn’t trying to cross chores off my list, I was usually on my bike headed to Grandma Bixenman’s to mow her yard. I wonder how many miles I put on that three-speed bike over the summers before I turned 16?
Graduation came and went and summer vacation disappeared – the joy of growing up right?  The hardest part about summer after I had kids of my own was keeping them out of trouble while Larry and I were at work. If you have read any of my previous columns, you know we weren’t always successful at that parental duty.
I’ll never forget the first summer we let them stay home by themselves. It was nerve racking! Thankfully I had an understanding boss during that first week or I would have probably been home with them permanently. They were only supposed to call in case of an emergency. My biggest mistake was not immediately defining emergency.
We had a rotating list of chores on the refrigerator door. Every day, each kid had a list of age appropriate tasks to complete before lunch. If I came home at lunch and everything was finished to my satisfaction, then all three kids could go to the pool that afternoon. If any of the three messed up, they all stayed home. Yes, I used the “everybody pays if you screw up” approach.
The first question all three asked was “who’s in charge”. I wasn’t stupid – NOBODY had control over anybody else. And then the phone calls began. Since no one had control, they all thought tattling was appropriate.
By the end of the week, we had a family sit-down complete with a list of good reasons to call Mom at work. The only “good” reason to call was if there was bloodshed – why oh why did I jinx myself?
When the phone call came in, I wasn’t the one to answer it. One of the guys in the office had a concerned look on his face when he told me that Joni was on the phone and had assured him there was blood involved. I took a deep breath and picked up the phone. Joni wasn’t in a state of panic, which surprised me. Joni panicked over hangnails.
She tried to calmly explain to me that Jake was okay – she thought. Her explanation of the injury completely confused me. Apparently, it was Jake’s day to sweep the kitchen and dining room floors. For whatever reason, a fight had broken out between him and Jeana. As he was yelling at her, he bent down to pick up a rug in front of the refrigerator. His mouth was running - his brain was not. He ran the handle of the broom down his throat and as Joni calmly put it “scratched that thing that dangles back there and the back of his throat and it was bleeding.”
I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around the fact that a six year old that was barely four foot tall could scratch his tonsils with a broom handle. I was still confused as I told my boss that I needed to make an unexpected trip home. They all looked at me in total confusion as I tried to tell them what happened. It didn’t make sense to them either.
I got home and Joni had Jake sitting on the couch eating ice cubes. The bleeding had stopped but he was still mad at Jeana for whatever reason. The big scrape across his tonsils didn’t even need a flashlight to be seen. It was a “slap my head” moment. Okay, maybe it was an “only in my house” moment.
I decided leaving the warring tribes together the rest of the afternoon was not going to be conducive to him healing. As long as he was yelling at his sister, that scrape was never going to get any rest. I made him grab some busy work and we headed back to my office. After proudly showing the men his battle wound, he settled in for an afternoon nap.
As I brace myself for Jake to spend some time with kids this summer, as their parents are off to work, I pray – a lot. I have already given him a list of “do NOT let them do” activities. All items off the list of “activities” my own kids decided to try while Larry and I were at work. As I was making that list, Jake and Joni added a few more things to the list. Apparently, they could get along once in a while since they made a few pacts over the summers of things not to tell Mom and Dad they had done. 
As they share some of those stories now (long after they can get in trouble) I keep telling myself, they are only young once.  I’m glad they developed a sense of fun that does not take a big bank account or fancy equipment.  All they seem to need is a sense of adventure and good friends that can keep a secret.  It’s nice to know that one of those friends is their sibling.

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