When my kids were little and we were house hunting, the one thing I promised them was that we would find a house where we could hook up a hose. The place we’d been renting before had no hose spigot, and even though we went to the pool and the beach, I always felt like an important part of their childhood was missing.
So we found a house, and we did hook up a hose and filled up a little wading pool. The kids loved it, and they loved the sprinkler I set up and the little water slide we had on the grassy slope. They spent a lot of time out there every summer, gleefully playing as all kids play in a small amount of water.
One month we found ourselves with all our bills paid and a little leftover money, so we splurged on something else I’d always wanted for my kids: A wooden play structure. It had swings and a slide and a climbing net and a little tower with a wheel, and they had endless active time and pretend games, swarming up and down and on and over it; and as they grew, they nailed things to it and painted it and switched out swings and made it more and more their own.
Kids growing up
Several years passed, the kids were getting older, and I again found myself looking for something to make our yard richer for them, more exciting and entertaining, and something to draw them outside and keep them active. We got a trampoline, the biggest one we could find, and it was wonderful. Kids of all ages could use it, from the toddler who got bopped up and down like a piece of popcorn when the other kids jumped, to the teenagers who needed to work off some angst and frustration with a furious solo jumping session in the evening.
The other day, I looked in the shed, hunting for some pruning shears, and I saw so many toys that no one has played with in years. Bikes with silly little miniature wheels. A beloved backyard ride-on roller coaster that we took apart and brought with us in move after move but that hasn’t been assembled for a while. There’s a red and blue playhouse, once in constant, hot demand, and now it’s faded with the sun and occupied only by blackberry brambles and a few spiders.
It’s the same on the porch, and in the attic. So many roller skates and stilts and baseball gloves and bow and arrow sets, games and activities that I gathered and brought home for my kids to try to make them happy, to make them healthy, to make them into well-rounded people who could do a lot of things and knew how to enjoy themselves, and were strong and determined and capable. I wanted our home to be the place they would want to be, and the place they’d want to bring their friends to, so I constantly worked hard to fill their life with everything rich I could manage, and I constantly encouraged them to use them. Sometimes I even insisted they use them.
Have I mentioned that my children are growing up? They keep leaving, which is what they’re supposed to do. I’ve got plenty to keep myself busy. It’s not that I don’t know what to do with myself if I’m not caring for little ones.
But it’s strange to shift out of the mode of constantly looking around for the next thing they might need to help them become a little older. For some of them, we have arrived. My preparation time is over, and now it’s their time to be who they are, or at least who they are becoming. It’s time for them to take over the project of themselves and to decide how they will spend their time.
Providing a space
So, I have been spending my time building a patio. I’ve been haunting “buy nothing” groups and picking up used bricks salvaged from everywhere around the state, and every time I bring home another load, I add them to the pattern in the ground. It’s more or less a giant half-wheel, with flower planters at the outer edges, a rock garden on one side, and a peach tree shading a statue of St. Joseph at the axis of the wheel. St. Joseph has been our family’s patron since day one, when we got married at St. Joseph’s church, and I credit him with keeping us together when all signs pointed to falling apart.
A patio, because it’s not a thing to do, but just a place to be, a place where people can stop by if they want to. I’m anchoring some felled aspen trees in PVC pipes sunken in the ground, and stringing lights between the trees, to make the area into a more defined space; and I bought a little propane fire pit, so all you have to do is press a button and you can have a fire without a fuss. I planted bulbs and seeds in half a dozen buckets, and they’re all growing nicely. When all the bricks are finally laid, I’ll gather our outdoor chairs and a little table, and add some more flowers and maybe a bird feeder, and there it will be: A nice spot for my kids to come and hang out, if they want. People can play music, if they want. They can have snacks, if they want. I’m just providing a space.
Every parent comes to this point. You do the work, you make the preparations, you buy the things, you teach, you guide, you offer what you have to offer, you help, you correct, you insist, you do the work. But eventually it comes to the point where all you can do is make a space and extend a welcome, and then it’s up to them. The really busy, active part of the relationship is past, and now it’s a matter of being open and available, and they can do with that what they will.
Parents whose children are at this point: Do what you can to make that space beautiful. Perhaps they will come.