I told Jay and Katherine that I was going to stroll James up the hill to the Public Park, but I just didn’t have the energy. My family sometimes wears me out. They were all around for Valentine’s weekend.
It was great, but I was tired. So we wandered over toward the main square in Culver City instead, where James might find an ice cream, and his grandmother might find lunch without having to fix it.
For some reason, there is a weird dancing lion in the center of the square, surrounded by randomly erupting geysers of water.
It was…at last…a warm, pretty L.A. day, so we were not disturbed by the lack of seating at Chipotle.
I sat on a bench in the square to consume my burrito bowl, while James stared at the big boys who flirted with the fountain. They were street-wise and savvy, and knew how to jump out of the way just before an eruption was about to occur.
I was glad that James was able to get a little dose of vitamin D from the recently-elusive sun. I glanced down at my burrito bag for a second to get settled. When I looked up, James had his little foot poised above the wet pavement. “You better not get wet, James,” I warned.
(If there’s a mud puddle anywhere in the county, that boy will find it and jump in it.)
I searched for utensils. When I glanced back up, James was getting a little spray.
“I told you not to get wet, James. Come back over here and finish your ice cream.”
He must not have heard me.
Suddenly, the playful 2-foot mini-sprays grew into Yellowstone Park eruptions.
The older boys jumped back just in the nick of time; James got soaked.
He looked back at me, astonished.
And died laughing.
I could sense the eyes of on-lookers waiting to see what my reaction would be.
I died laughing, too.
Then it turned into a free-for-all, with James as the ring-leader. The two older boys, who had stayed scrupulously dry before, saw how much fun James was having getting wet. They grew more and more daring. When they saw how James was reveling in the experience with complete abandon, it emboldened them to take greater risks. Before long, everyone was soaked.
The passers-by were astonished. I wish there had been hidden cameras somewhere. Their looks said, “Where are this child’s parents? Who is in charge here???”
The older boys were accompanied solely by their father, who didn’t know exactly how to respond to the situation. He made vague threats and admonitions, but it was obviously that he wasn’t terribly upset.
Then, their mother strolled up with a baby.
She didn’t think the scene was as funny as I did. She started yelling at the kids to get out of the water.
But they kept getting wetter and wetter.
And I just couldn’t stop laughing.
Like a lunatic.
Like someone who was completely losing it.
Maybe I was, but it felt
I gave James permission to get absolutely soaking wet in the middle of downtown Culver City without a change of clothes or a dry diaper. I gave him permission to get the only shoes that survived the move…suede ones at that…totally, soddenly saturated. Eventually, I gave him permission to take his clothes off in a public place and just DANCE in the water. Slip-sliding away in the Land of Oz.
Because, or course, the weird lion was supposed to be the Cowardly one from the Wizard. But no longer cowardly.
Other little boys passing by were drawn like moths to the light.
One group consisted of three brothers with their three nannies. One nanny per boy. (Two were infant twins.) I thought, There’s no way those nannies are going to let Little Lord Fauntleroy get wet.
A beautiful little redhead, he lingered on the outskirts looking wistfully at the wild boys running and sliding and laughing. My heart went out to him.
A couple came strolling by with their 2 or 3-year–old boy. They watched from the sidelines for quite a while. I was busy multi-tasking…trying to capture the scene on my Iphone while eating my burrito bowl at the same time. When I noticed the couple again, the mother was trying to talk the timid little boy into the fountain. She got in to coax him, not wanting him to be just a side-liner.
By this time, the first mother and I had begun talking. She said something about my “son.” (Remember, 50-year-olds have babies in LA.) I explained that he was my grandson, and before long a very condensed version of our story came out. Being a neurotic from the South, I tried to make excuses for being a bad disciplinarian. I said something like, “Oh, you know, indulgent grandmothers and all that. Because of our family’s circumstances, James doesn’t have much of a chance to play with other kids. I love to see him having so much fun.”
Something changed in her.
She got out her Iphone, too, and started taking pictures of her little boys having fun in the sun and spray. She let them take their shoes and shirts off in a public square and get just as wet as James.
It was a joy-fest.
At last, I decided it was time to go home. James was starting to get cold. Packing up the stroller with drenched little boy clothes, I looked up to see a beautiful sight:
Those nannies finally relented. That gorgeous little redhead jumped into the water to join in the baptism of Joy.
Strolling home with James wrapped up in my jacket, I reflected on the phenomenon I’d just witnessed. I realized something.
The desire for freedom is contagious.
(So is joy.)
Sometimes you have to break a few rules every now and then; defy conventions a little. Make exceptions. Move beyond your initial response. Do the unexpected. Lay down expectations. Live in the moment. Let your hair down. Relax. Stop and smell…
And give others permission to do so.
I am so glad that I gave James permission to be free that day.
Maybe we should do the same for each other.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)