Last year, our neighbor caught us in a compromising situation.
My son, Miles, had taken one of the big boxes from the move into our new home and turned it into his own private playhouse. Naturally we encouraged this imaginative play, cutting out windows for him and drawing pictures on the outside. The Together CountsTM program teaches that activities for the entire family can come from a variety of places, even if it starts with a square box.
On one particular afternoon, we were taking a break from the move, lounging in the sun, enjoying our new backyard, and watching Miles play. He was taking his little toy animals into his “house” one by one. The yard was the jungle; the house was safety.
He turned to me. “Come on in, Daddy.”
I didn’t think twice. I got down on my hands and knees and crawled in, my feet still sticking out of the door. The box was just big enough for Miles, his animals, and me. He whispered to assure me that we were safe now, and began to introduce me by name to the hippos, elephants, and zebras that had also taken up sanctuary.
Then he turned to my wife. “Come on in, Mama!”
She couldn’t resist his invitation. Miles needed the whole family, and she wasn’t going to let him down. She crawled in right beside us, pregnant belly and all.
We were quite the sight: my wife and I with our feet sticking out of the box, tiny animals shoved against every part of our bodies, laughing hysterically at the absurdity of the moment. In a big cardboard box, closely packed in with the ones we loved, in the middle of a strange, new yard that could have belonged to anyone, we finally started to feel like this new place could be home.
That’s when I saw her, through one of the playhouse’s custom windows: a woman peeking over the fence, staring at a jumble of legs sticking out of a giant box in the middle of her new neighbors’ yard. She paused for a moment to take it in, smirked, and kept on walking.
I didn’t mind. Strangers seeing the distance we’re willing to go, to make our son happy didn’t matter to me. What mattered is that my son saw it. And as long as he continued to ask me to get down in the dirt with him, pleading with all the sincerity of the moment (it really wasn’t safe in the jungle), I knew that was where I should be.
Now Miles has begun junior kindergarten, and I couldn’t be more proud of him. As he embarks on his formal schooling years, I’ll miss the freedom that came with the baby years, but I’ll also look forward to seeing who he becomes.
And if he carries around even the smallest memories of his daddy in the dirt with him and the many adventures we’ve had outdoors in our own backyard, I’ll be happy.
By day, Caleb Gardner is a social media director, but the opinions here are exclusive to him. He’s also a husband and father, and moonlights as a musician, writer at The Exceptional Man, and photographer.
For more backyard fun, check out these other Together Counts’ resources: