We took the kids and our dog, Carmelita, to the dog park this afternoon. The dog park is a picture of heaven if you happen to be a dog or a grubby little boy. Carmi raced around us, skimming the ground in great leaps, pure joy coated in dog hair. This particular dog park is a part of the nearby park service land. It has a lovely wide path that we sometimes ride our bikes through, wide expanses of fields for romping, and a stream.
At a wide point in the stream there is a huge old cottonwood tree hugging one bank, and under its branches are some benches. People gather here to watch their dogs splash through the water.
Tre, as usual, scrambled down the steep banks to the water. He was followed close behind by Max. Raphael climbed the tree, looking for a small snake he’d spotted there last week. It was gone, and so he stood there, pensively staring down at Tre and Max as they tromped through the water.
Now, it really is too gross to think about, the boys playing in all that dog water, but we are a fairly earthy family, so I don’t try to stop them. They squish through the mud on the edge of the stream, wade into the water, and collect stray tennis balls to fling for the dogs. Raphael has never gone with the big boys into the water, because the bank is a little too steep for his liking, and the water looks a little too unknown. But today, after ten minutes or so of observing his brothers, he decided it was time for him to try to join them. He wanted to get over to the other side of the stream, to a wide sandy bank. So he gathered Clay for assistance, and proceeded to pick his way gingerly down the slope to the water.
I stood at the top of the bank, where I could see Tre (practicing his rock climbing skills on a crumbly steep dirt cliff), and Max (trotting about in the midst of a churning sea of dogs, full of delight and unable to decide which direction to go), and Raphi (on his quest with Clay). Carmelita ran in ever widening circles around us. My brother, Josh, thinks Carmi has some cattle dog in her, and she did seem to be trying to gather all the far-flung dogs in the park. I could also keep an eye on Mom, who was sitting on a bench. I had poured a tiny bit of water down her back on the ride over, and she was childishly plotting to return the favor. Honestly.
After much slow, shrieking progress, Clay and Raphael reached the water’s edge. Raphi watched Tre and Max splash back and forth a few times, then reached out to put one foot in the stream. That went well enough, so he stepped out with the other foot. He looked back at Clay, who grinned and waved him on, so he minced slowly across. It was only a few feet, and he soon had both feet in the sand of the opposite shore. He spun around and looked back, to see what he’d done, and crowed for joy.
“MAMA! COME SEE ME!”
I made my way down the bank to stand beside Clay.
“WATCH THIS!” Raphael bellowed. He stepped into the water, his chin proudly held high. He marched across, too proud to even watch his feet. The minute he reached our side, he turned around and marched back. On the sandy shore again, he bounced and leapt happily.
“DID YOO SEE THAT? AH JUST GREW UP!”
Right before our very eyes.
Tre and Max gathered to pat him on the back in congratulations, and the three of them headed off to explore together.
I leaned against Clay and watched my baby join his brothers in their little gang. They are the sort of boys who cross water without any grown ups at all, and find their own adventures.
I guess he just grew up.