"If you don't play in that sandbox this summer, I'm turning it into a raised bed."
Summer of 2012, this warning was thrown out. Was this a Mom Threat or a wish that Kiddo would always stay, well, little? I'm still not sure. Even at six, we have a kid who loves to dig, anywhere but the sandbox. Somehow, the real earth seems more interesting to him.
Yet, for two summers I held out hope that maybe, just maybe, the sandbox would get used again. We had constructed so many neat little 'scapes, dug trenches to fill with water and then placed boards across to make a bridge. Little islands had been created. Bits of plants used as 'trees', colored glass stones hidden again and again as they found 'treasure' and various potions of 'ick' were concocted in old clay pots, sand mixed with water and chalk and leaves and whatever else would suit.
Last summer, though, the writing was, well, on the tarp. As the work on our house had commenced, the tarp covering the sandbox became battered as yard toys were all piled into it. The blue milk crate full of frisbees (perfect for mud pies), shovels, endless whiffle balls which had sailed over the fence from the neighbors, PVC pipes and other plastic plumbing pieces, and a plastic truck and digger... all of this sat unused. The real metal Tonka dump truck, excavator and crane were left alone in the garage while Kiddo made 'nun chucks' from two sticks and a long piece of string. The mud pies were made elsewhere.
And the unused sandbox became a haven for spiders, who could make their homes, undisturbed by busy little scoops and spades. The spiders drew a new creature to the backyard: spider wasps. As the work was done on the house, the screen on the backdoor was removed and those pesky, beautiful insects came into the house, then frantically tried to fly out through the large glass picture window in the kitchen nook. I was stung at my first attempt to kill one, but over the summertime learned how to extract them alive with the help of the broom. The wasps liked the spiders, they liked the sand, and they felt right at home in that sandbox.
I like to live in harmony with nature, but sometimes, nature needs to go live elsewhere.
On Wednesday I went outside to tidy up the backyard. The sprawling Delicata squash that was growing out of the compost had already produced one large, yellow squash and was now on to making more little green balls on its stem. Without sentiment, this vine and those huge, nettled leaves were quickly dispatched to the yard debris. Then to the sad tomatoes in their pots. I untied them from their stakes and they were chopped up to compost. But what about all that potting soil?
In that moment, I decided the time had come to do what I'd promised. I removed the tarp, patterned with the lime green pollen that has been plaguing us, and began to clean out the sandbox. Every tin cup, scoop, old rubbery Viking car and glass stone was removed from where they had resided, half-buried, for far too long. Then, the moment of truth: I dumped out both of the huge planters into the sand. It was done- there was no turning back now. After this I went out to the street to rake up fresh, dry leaves and dumped bin after bin of them over the soil. This way, the neighborhood cats wouldn't be tempted to use the loose dirt and sand as a litter box. The wooden frame that had once held my preschool groups, where so many kids had argued over who could use which truck or shovel, or where should the dirt go--- all of this was covered up by crisp brown and gold leaves.
Next spring, we will go back in, remove the landscaping fabric at the bottom, and turn in some fresh soil. In this sandy medium, I've promised Kiddo that we could plant carrots. He's also entertaining the idea of starting a couple pumpkins in there as well. On Wednesday his class worked on "pumpkin math", guessing the measurements of a pumpkin in inches and pounds, guessing how many seeds. His worksheet shows his guess was 100 seeds; there were actually 692 or something of that nature. He taped two seeds to his worksheet to take home; these are the seeds he wants to plant.
Halloween was last night. Kiddo is old enough to have opinions on costumes and he created a 'zombie' outfit from an old hoodie of mine and a fairy cape. I gave him lessons on how to walk like the undead and he had a great time last night. He recently brought home an adaptation of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" from the school library; we read it and he declared how sad he felt for the Monster. It's undeniable that he's getting older...
... but not too old for the Halloween Fairy. Yesterday at breakfast, he wondered what would the Halloween Fairy bring this year? Last night, he carefully chose out several pieces of candy for himself and left the rest on the table for the supernatural creature. The betta fish I bought him yesterday, kept upstairs out of Kitty's attention or reach, was waiting for him this morning at the table. Kiddo has been talking about having a fish for quite some time. So, the Fairy has outdone herself and she lives on for another year.
Kiddo is proud, too. That he is old enough to have his own pet. He has been highly aware that Gus is more or less Mom and Dad's kitty; Gus could mostly care less about poor Kiddo, even as he opens doors for the cat and tries to entice him with Snakoo, a catnip-filled snake. Gus is not giving Kiddo any warm fuzzies; he likes the quieter, more still adults who move more slowly, gently carry him from floor to floor, and feed him his daily meals filled with medications. Gus doesn't give Kiddo any love, and that does make me sad for him. "I wish I had a fish friend", Kiddo would say, "I would come home and he would smile at me and be glad to see me and be my pet." To grant this wish felt like an opportunity to do a very caring thing for our little guy.
It's not just the abandoned sandbox or the empathy for Dr. Frankenstein's Monster or even his high-water pants that tell me he's getting older. The desire for a scooter (which he eschewed earlier this year), the choices that he makes regarding his friendships or using his time-- all of this tells me that we're moving into a new season in our household. I'm liking being the mother of a kid who is starting to ask deeper questions about life, people, and why things are the way they are. I am loving that his friendships are becoming just as important to him as his relationships with Joe and I.
And I love that he still wants to hold my hand when we are out-- that he just instinctively puts his hand out and up to mine as if he expects I will always be there. That for him, this is the natural way of walking someplace. That, even if he is spinning a long story from his own imagination, he still craves connection with me. I am grateful for this, that we still have this. And all to soon, it will be just as it is when he spies familiar faces across the playground-- he drops my hand and runs, backpack bouncing, over to his buddies, over to being a little boy among friends. All too soon, I might become invisible to him unless he's hungry or needs clothes for school, or wants something from me... so I'm holding onto this season, as I hold onto them all, grimacing at the challenges and relishing the delights and knowing that nothing, not even sandboxes, will stay the same forever. Sometimes they become something even better.