Clubius Incarnate Part 35 – Streetlights (April 1960)

Dad said he’d “watch” David so mom and I could go over to a “meeting” at Paul’s house. As mom and I walked down the street between our house and the park I was thinking that I wasn’t sure what a “meeting” was, even though I had heard the word a lot. There are some things I wouldn’t ask mom because I was worried that if I did, she would want to ask me why I was asking that question, and I wouldn’t want to tell her. But this wasn’t one of those things.

“What’s a ‘meeting’?” I asked her.

“Mmm”, she said nodding, “That’s an important word to know. A meeting is when some people get together to figure something out and decide what to do.”

“Why’s it important?” I asked.

She chuckled and said, “Because that’s the way we human beings figure out what to do when the thing we need to decide affects more than just one of us.” Then she pointed at the park across the street. “Like whether to take that piece of land and spend the money to turn it into Almendinger Park.”

That was interesting, because I and other kids had “meetings” all the time, though we didn’t call them that.

We got to Paul’s house and mom pushed the buzzer that let them know someone wanted to come in. Paul’s mom opened the door.

“I was just wondering where you two were”, she said, “I just called your hubby to see where you were and he said you were headed over.”

“Sorry we’re late”, mom said.

“Not a problem”, she said, “C’mon in. Everyone else who’s coming is here. Coop’s a regular here but Jane this is your first time, right?”

“Yes it is”, mom said, looking around. “I just LOVE your house. All the big glass doors looking out into the back.”

“Thanks Jane”, she said, “It’s great when it’s nice out like today. But it’s a pain in the tush on a cold day in the winter, believe me. I’m not sure what Dillie was thinking when he redid this area of the house. I have to wear an overcoat to make breakfast in the winter!”

“Dill’s your husband?”, mom asked.

“Yeah, Randall,” she said, “Sometimes he feels like my oldest child, If you know what I mean.” She waved her hand at mom. “Well I could bend your ear. Men, right? But everyone else is out on the back patio so come on out. Can I pour you two a glass of lemonade? Help yourself to potato chips!”

I nodded. Mom said, “That would be nice, thank you.” Then she looked at me. “What do you say when someone does something nice for you?”

I never said thankyou to another kid, but I guess you were supposed to with grownups, especially if they weren’t your mom or dad. Otherwise they might think you were a bad kid. I looked at Paul’s mom and I said, “Thank you.” Mom patted me on the shoulder.

“You’re very welcome, both of you”, Paul’s mom said.

Next to the kitchen stuff were two doors that were all windows and opened up. Outside them was that “patio” thing with bricks in the ground to walk on and a really big round picnic table. I had never seen a round picnic table before, and this one was REALLY big.

“There they are!” said Molly’s mom. Molly was there too, but sitting on the other side of the table with the other kids, Paul, Kenny, Marybeth and Hannah. Next to Molly’s mom was Kenny’s mom. Paul and Kenny were sitting with Molly between them and there was space to sit between Kenny and Hannah. I usually sat next to Molly but I figured I should probably sit in that space because I was the last one. Mom sat next to Paul’s mom, who poured us each a glass of lemonade and set it in front of us. It was interesting because the kids were on one side of the big round table and the grownups were on the other side.

Still standing, Paul’s mom looked at mom and said, “Well Jane, I think we’re all here now, though Marybeth and Hannah’s grandmother couldn’t make it.

Marybeth nodded and said, “Her leg was hurting, but she said she was ‘here in spirit’, and that I can speak for her.”

“Is she okay?” Molly’s mom asked, “I enjoyed meeting her briefly the other day after Cooper’s birthday party, though I felt bad waking her up.”

“Babcia’s old”, said Hannah, looking at Marybeth.

Marybeth nodded and looked at her sister and said, “Babcias are always old. That’s why they’re babcias.” Then she looked at Molly’s mom and said, “She’s okay. She says her leg hurts sometimes, but she still does stuff if she has to or really wants to.”

Molly’s mom nodded and said, “Got it. But please tell her we missed her!” Marybeth nodded.

“Okay”, said Paul’s mom clapping her hands together and looking at mom, “We all introduced ourselves already. You know everyone here I think.”

“I do”, mom said nodding, then looked at Kenny’s mom, “Missus Novak, it’s been a while. I’m so glad you could join us.”

“I’m grateful to be included, Missus Zale”, she said nodding.

“Please”, mom said, “I would be more comfortable if you call me Jane. And may I call you ‘Joyce’?”

“Of course”, she said, nodding, and looking less worried than she did before.

“And Marybeth and Hannah”, mom said, looking at them, “I’ve only recently had the pleasure of meeting you two, and I’m looking forward to getting to know you better. And do send my best to your grandmother.” Marybeth pushed her lips together and nodded.

So then mom held out her hands to Paul’s and Molly’s mom and said, “So Matilda, Joan, do either of you want to share what we’ve been chatting about?”

“Jane”, said Paul’s mom, “You’re the woman with the words. Why don’t you go ahead.”

“Hear, hear”, said Molly’s mom. I’d heard grownups say that before, but I wasn’t sure if that was like right here instead of there or you should hear this.

“Okay”, said mom, nodding and closing her eyes to think what to say, then opening them up again and looking around at everyone at the table including the kids.

“Some of you may have seen me sitting out in the middle of Almendinger Park”, she said, looking at different people at the table as she kept talking, “Just sitting, reading a book, sketching, or writing lists of chores to get done. I do that so Coop can play with his friends in the park but still have someone keeping an eye on him. I’ve got his younger brother David to look after too, so I bring him with me, and when he was younger, he’d just kind of wander around near me, or explore the lilac bushes or sit and watch the kids play baseball over on one of the baseball fields. But now he’s nearly two and he wants to go find his big brother or play with all his toys at home like Coop did at that age. I need to spend the time with him like I did with Coop, so sitting in the park isn’t really an option for me anymore.” She looked up at the sky doing more thinking, then continued.

“So I read in magazines about parenting”, she said, “And Joan keeps me up to date on all the latest academic thinking.” Molly’s mom smiled and nodded. “They generally talk about three styles of parenting. ‘Authoritarian’, where the parent lays down the law on every subject and the kid is under strict supervision at all times and follows the rules or is punished. Then there’s ‘Authoritative’, where the parent is more flexible but still sets the rules and supervises and directs the kid. The third is called ‘Permissive’, and is generally thought of as spoiling the kid and letting them do whatever the hell they want.” Kenny’s mom made a funny noise and mom shook her head.

“Forgive me for using that word”, mom said, “It was just my passion getting the better of me!” Kenny’s mom closed her eyes and nodded.

Mom looked around again at everyone else at the table including us kids. “Well the approach that Coop’s dad and I follow doesn’t really fit in any of those categories”, she said, “I would call it ‘Independence’ parenting. You watch and listen to the kid, and to the best of your ability and budget, you give them the things that they need to explore and figure out the world on their own. You make as few rules as possible, and give them as much independence as possible. Our world is changing every day now. We are now training seven men as actual ‘astronauts’ to go up in space. By the time our kids are adults our world may be a very different place.”

“So I feel strongly”, she said, then looking at Kenny’s mom, grinning and rolling her eyes, “strongly enough to swear, that kids need to be comfortable from the youngest possible age being independent and charting their own course.”

“Well said Jane”, said Paul’s mom, but looking like she was really thinking, “What if you see your kid about to make a big mistake and just a little good advice would save him or her from the pain, embarrassment or frustration?”

“Yeah”, said mom, closing her eyes and nodding, then opening them again and looking at Paul’s mom, “That’s always the hard question. As a parent you want to keep your kids safe, protect them from harm.”

“You’re a negligent parent if you don’t!” said Kenny’s mom, looking worried and even a little mad.

Mom closed her eyes and nodded again. “I agree Joyce, but hear me out, and to respond to your question too Matilda. Give the kid your advice but don’t demand they make the choice you advise unless they are really endangering themselves. Looking back at my own life, I had the freedom, the independence, to make a lot of mistakes. But oh boy did I learn my lessons, and in the process, I moved beyond any fear of making even bigger choices and maybe bigger mistakes in the future, and not living life to its fullest.”

Then she looked at Kenny’s mom again. “I agree with you that all us parents have a critical responsibility to keep our kids safe and help them grow up. But have we truly kept them safe if as grownups they haven’t learned to fully chart their own course, in a world that is likely to be very different from ours, where some of the old rules we taught them may no longer apply?”

“Well, I didn’t intend to get on a soapbox here”, mom said, “I just wanted you all to know that Eric and I have decided that now that Coop’s five, we are going to let him play in the park by himself, and unless we have some special plan, he can make the decision when to come home as long as at the end of the day, he comes home when it starts to get dark and the streetlights come on.”

Mom looked at everybody again and said, “I just want all of you, adults AND kids, to know that, if you see Coop unsupervised in the park, that’s not something to be concerned about. Of course if you see him in some sort of trouble or danger, I would hope you would assist, just like I would assist you or your kids.”

“Okay”, she said, holding up both her hands, “I’ve said my piece, and more than I intended. I’d like to hear everyone’s thoughts.” She smiled and opened her eyes really wide for a second.

“Well I’ll start”, said Paul’s mom, raising her hand, “As always Jane, well said! You’ve got my vote if you ever want to run against ‘the boys’ for public office!” Mom nodded and smiled with her lips but not her teeth.

Paul’s mom continued, “Well of course you and I have been talking about this, and I imagine you and Joan too. The same thing you’re thinking for Coop I’ve been thinking for Paul too. I’ve got way too much on my plate to sit on a towel or a picnic table in the park keeping an eye on Paul. But he needs to be out with his friends and I really don’t have the time to arrange for his friends to come over or him to go to their houses.”

She took a quick look at Kenny’s mom, grinned and said, “Heck, the park’s full of unsupervised kids.”

“Well”, said Kenny’ mom, “There’s park staff there during the summer.”

“True”, said Paul’s mom, “Though when they’re there, they’re mostly around the shelter handing out sports equipment and managing the baseball diamonds.”

And then she looked at Molly’s mom and said, “And Joan, I know you’ve got some extra considerations with Molly…”, she stopped talking and looked worried to say the rest of what she was thinking to say. Molly’s mom nodded her head but didn’t say anything. I couldn’t figure out what she didn’t want to say.

“Because she’s a girl?” asked Marybeth. All the adults looked kind of surprised when she said that.

“Yes Marybeth”, Molly’s mom said, but looking a little bit mad that Marybeth said that, “Because she’s a girl.”

“I can do anything boys can do!” Molly said, also sounding a little bit mad. Her mom puffed her cheeks and blew air out of her mouth.

“Yeah but older boys can do bad things to girls that they don’t do to other boys”, Marybeth said, “That’s what my grandma said.”

Her sister looked at her and said, “She’s my grandma too.” Marybeth looked at her sister and nodded but didn’t say anything.

“Like what?” Molly asked, still sounding mad.

“Molly. Marybeth”, Molly’s mom said, “Molly and I need to discuss this on our own later if you don’t mind. An important discussion but not what Jane intended for this whole group.”

Mom blew air out of her mouth. “Life is never simple”, she said.

“My sister and I go to the park all the time by ourselves”, Marybeth said, “And we’re okay. Kids in the park look after each other, mostly.”

“Well that’s good to know”, said mom, “So you haven’t had any problems there?”

“Nah”, said Marybeth, wrinkling her nose and shaking her head. I could tell she liked being the older kid telling things to the grownups like they didn’t know everything and weren’t in charge of her. I wanted to be like that. “My grandma just worries a lot”, she said.

“She’s my grandma too!” said Hannah. Her older sister looked at her again and nodded.

“If Coob or Paul goes to the park to play, I want to go too”, said Molly.

“I get that Molly”, her mom said, “And if you’re playing in the park with a friend then I’m okay with that. I don’t have time to supervise, particularly now.” All the other grownups nodded and didn’t say anything, like the rest of it was secret, but I figured it was about Molly’s mom and dad.

“Molly and Kenny could go together too”, said Kenny’s mom.

“MOM?” said Kenny, looking worried and kind of mad.

His mom pointed a finger at him and said, “Manners young man!” Kenny made a funny noise like air was coming out of his mouth then closed his eyes and his mouth and wrapped his arms around his chest.

“Since I’m older”, said Marybeth, looking like she liked being older, “I can keep an eye on Molly, Coop and Paul when I’m in the park. I already have to look after my sister.”

Hannah pushed her mouth together, looked at her sister and asked, “When do I get to be older?”

“Never”, said Paul, like it was important someone give her an answer, “That’s just the way it works! I have an older sister too, and an older brother.”

I heard a noise like a car was getting close and then it stopped.

“Well”, said Paul’s mom, laughing through her nose, “Speak of the devil or devils!”

Kenny’s mom made a clicking noise with her mouth.

Paul’s mom held her hands up in the air. “Sorry Joyce”, she said, “The rest of the brood is home.”

Paul’s brother Jake came out in the backyard and saw Paul and us other kids. “What’s going on?” he asked.

Paul’s sister was behind her brother. “Hey mom”, she said, “You having a meeting? With kids too?”

Paul’s mom waved at both of them. “Why don’t you two come out”, she said, “You might have something to contribute.”

Paul’s dad looked out through the open door from the kitchen, looking kind of worried. “You girls having your meeting?” he asked.

“There’re some boys here too Dillie”, she said. “Dillie” seemed like a strange nickname for a dad, I thought. “C’mon out and say hello”, she said.

He walked out onto the patio. “Hello ladies”, he said waving his hand, “And kids too.” He looked worried like he didn’t want to be there. “I got some stuff…”, he said, pointing back towards the house.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah”, said Paul’s mom, laughing through her nose and waving him away, “Too much cooties for you. Go! Do whatever you have to do.” Paul’s dad nodded and quickly went back in the house. I had never heard a grownup talk about “cooties” before. Then she looked at Paul’s brother and sister.

“Does everybody know Paul’s older brother Jake and sister Lynn?” she asked. I had seen them both when I had played at Paul’s house, though I didn’t know his sister’s name. The two of them looked shy and waved to all of us, looking mostly at us kids rather than the grown ups.

“What’s up mom?” asked his sister. She was tall, almost like a grown up woman.

“You two think it’s okay for your brother, Coop, Molly and Kenny to play in Almendinger Park by themselves without a grown up watching them?” their mom asked.

Paul’s sister lifted up her shoulders and said, “Sure”, then let them go down again. His brother nodded and said, “Yeah”.

“They probably shouldn’t go out there at night”, his sister said.

“Oh?” asked Paul’s mom, “What goes on in the park at night?”

“Nothing!” she said, sounding a little bit mad, “Just saying.”

“Okay”, said Paul’s mom, “Thanks. You two are dismissed.” It seemed strange the way she talked to them, like she was being silly with them. Mom and dad didn’t talk to me that way. Grown ups weren’t usually silly unless they were drinking that “punch” stuff at parties, but Paul’s mom seemed to like being silly a lot.

We sat and drank lemonade and ate potato chips for a while and finally the grown ups said it was time to go home. I looked at the other kids at the table. I really wanted to talk to all of them about what we’d talked about, without the grown ups around. I looked at the other kids and it seemed like they felt the same way. I figured we kids should go over to the park together. Mom had said I could now go over to the park whenever I wanted to as long as I came home when the street lights came on. So I got brave and I asked her.

“Mom, can I go to the park for a while?” I asked, loud, so all the other kids could hear me.

“Sure Cloob”, she said, laughing through her nose, “That’s what we just discussed and agreed to, so sure. Just come home when the street lights come on.”

I nodded and said, “I will.” I looked at all the other kids so they’d figure out my plan without having to say what it was because I didn’t want the grown ups to know.

Paul figured it out. “I’m going to go too mom, okay?” he asked. His mom nodded and looked at mom and said, “Oh boy Jane, so it begins, what have we wrought?”

Then Molly figured it out. “Me too mom”, she said.

“Well okay I guess”, her mom said, “Just stay with Coop and Paul and come home when they do.” Molly nodded.

“We’ll tag along”, said Marybeth, “I’m older so I can look after things.” Mom, Molly’s mom and Paul’s mom all looked at each other, smiled, and shook their heads, not at us but at each other.

“Me too”, said Kenny, but not sounding sure about it, looking over toward his mom, who blew air out of her mouth.

“I guess it’s okay”, Kenny’s mom said, “At least for right now, as long as you stay with the others and come home right after. And then young man, you and I need to have a very important talk!” Kenny didn’t seem happy but he nodded.

So as mom, Molly’s mom and Kenny’s mom walked back to our street together from Paul’s house, all us kids went across the street to the park, all of us looking both ways for cars since we knew our moms were watching us. The big bunch of lilac bushes that were across the street from Paul’s house did not have any kids playing in them so we all decided to go in there and have our own “meeting”. The bushes had lots of leaves and flowers because it was spring again and they smelled really good, like all the plants were alive again and ready to grow. And once we were in there it felt like people couldn’t see us from the outside, though the sun came in the top part so it wasn’t super dark in there.

“So who’s in charge of this meeting?” Marybeth asked. She seemed like SHE wanted to be in charge because she was older.

“Why does anybody need to be in charge?” Paul asked.

“So everyone doesn’t talk at the same time and takes their turn”, said Marybeth, “At school you have to raise your hand and be called on before you talk.” All the rest of us looked at her like that was pretty strange.

“At my play school we don’t have to raise our hands before we talk”, I said, “We just talk when we want to.”

Marybeth looked up and shook her head. “That’s because that’s not a REAL school. It’s just for playing, not working like a real school.”

“No one was in charge of that meeting with the grownups”, Molly said, “And people just talked and didn’t have to raise their hands.” I could tell Marybeth was thinking about that and didn’t have an answer.

“What’s the difference between playing and working?” I asked.

“Working’s things you have to do”, said Marybeth, “Like go to school, go shopping, go to a job, do chores. Maybe you don’t like it but you do it anyway to make money or because you’re told to.”

Marybeth looked a little bit mad, shaking her head. “I don’t know. You guys do what you want. All talk at the same time and don’t take turns!”

“We’re talking now and we’re taking turns”, said Paul, “I think it’s just when grownups are around kids they want to be in charge of them so they make the kids do extra stuff.” Marybeth looked at him kind of mad and Paul saw that.

“I don’t know”, he said, “That’s just what I think. At MY nursery school the grownups sometimes make us raise our hands.” Then thinking for a minute. “Let’s just be regular and talk but not at the same time.”

“Okay”, said Marybeth, not mad anymore. Molly, Kenny, Hannah and I nodded. We all sat there for a while without talking, liking being together and hidden inside the lilac bushes and being able to smell them too. The smell made you feel kind of crazy and full of energy, like you could do anything and wanted to.

“I can ride my bike without training wheels”, Molly said, “I ‘practiced’ with my dad and then he took them off and I could do it.” Then she looked at me and said, “Coob still has his on.”

“I know”, I said. I wasn’t really mad, but I felt like I really really needed to figure that out so I could be like a big kid. As long as I had the training wheels the kids with the regular bicycles would think I was still a little kid.

“When my brother gets his new bike then his old bike will be mine”, Paul said, “That’s how it works when you have an older brother. They get all the new stuff.”

“That’s not fair”, Hannah said. Paul nodded but didn’t say anything.

“I don’t even have a bike”, said Marybeth, “I don’t really need one. I’ve got to watch my sister so I just do walking.”

“Do you even have a mom and dad?” Paul asked her.

“Of course I do”, Marybeth said, looking kind of mad, “How would I get born if I didn’t have a mom and dad.”

“Me too”, said Hannah, “How would I get born too.” Marybeth nodded, but then shook her head.

“Our mom and dad go places for their work”, Marybeth said, “They do shows in the circus.”

“What’s a ‘circus’?” I asked. I had heard the word before but I couldn’t remember about it.

“It’s a thing that you watch with big animals and people who do special stuff”, Paul said.

“That’s right”, said Marybeth, “My mom and dad do stuff with horses.”

“Neat”, said Paul. The rest of us thought that was pretty neat too.

“So our grandma is kind of a mom AND a dad when they’re not here”, said Marybeth.

“She’s a Babcias”, said Hannah. Her sister nodded.

“I have a ‘Nona’ and ‘Nono’ and also a ‘Geema’ and ‘Geepa’”, said Kenny.

“They get special names ‘cuz they’re so old”, said Marybeth. I was thinking I had a grandmother and grandfather but they didn’t have special names. Maybe they weren’t old enough, though they seemed pretty old.

“So should we be a club?”, asked Paul. I looked at Kenny and Molly and we all nodded.

“I should probably be in charge”, Marybeth said, “Cuz I’m older.”

“Well maybe”, said Paul, “But you can’t make us raise our hands to talk or be like an army general or Captain Nemo.” Marybeth nodded.

“We should probably vote”, I said, remembering those other boys in the park who always said there should be a vote, though they only wanted the vote to be for what they wanted.

“Okay then raise your hands”, said Marybeth, looking around at everybody else. Molly, Kenny and I put our hands up right away. Paul didn’t, but saw that all three of us had, so he figured he’d do it too. Hannah didn’t put her hand up.

Marybeth looked at her and said, “You’re supposed to vote for me cuz I’m your sister.”

“Do I have to?” she asked.

“She doesn’t have to”, said Paul, “Or it isn’t really a regular vote.”

“But I’m still in charge”, said Marybeth, “Because everybody else voted for me, right?”

“Yeah”, said Paul nodding, “I think that’s how it works.”

“We should let other people join our club”, said Molly, “If we want them to. But no grownups.” Everybody nodded.

“But it also should be secret”, said Kenny, “We can’t tell anybody there are girls in the club.” Paul and I nodded our heads, but Molly and Marybeth looked at us like they were getting ready to be mad.

Kenny looked worried and said, “If boys know there are girls in the club AND that a girl is in charge they’ll tell other boys and they’ll say we’ve got cooties and we’re sissies.” Kenny looked at Molly and Marybeth. “You do not want to be a sissy! That’s worse than being dead!”

Marybeth looked at Kenny like she didn’t think he was right.

Kenny looked at her very worried and said, “Everybody said that Brad kid was a sissy because he played with girls and even liked dolls. Now he doesn’t come to the park anymore.” That sounded really bad.

“So some boys don’t like girls too”, said Marybeth, “I just don’t play with them.”

“Yeah”, said Kenny, “But being a boy and a sissy is way worse than being a girl. You get to be a boy but they say you still want to be a girl. That’s way way worse!”.

Then we all stopped talking. I don’t think any of us wanted to talk about it any more, it just made everybody worried or mad. Instead we talked about what the name of our club should be and when we should have the next meeting. We talked about what the name should be for a long time and we had a vote and decided to call our club the “Corner Club” because the lilac bushes we were hiding in were right by the corner where all the streets came together that went to all our houses. Molly’s idea was the “Best Club”, and I voted for it too, but the others voted for “Corner Club”. We also talked a long time about when we should meet next. We decided that our next meeting would be “in a week”, which was the next time it was the same day, which was Saturday. We were all just happy to be with each other. Kenny was really happy because I guess he thought that none of us really liked him before.

Then the thing mom had been talking about at the first meeting happened. Paul looked up through the top of the bushes and said, “The streetlight is on.” I looked out toward where my house was and the streetlight there was also on.

“You guys have to go home”, Marybeth said.

“You have to go home too”, said Kenny to Marybeth.

Marybeth shook her head and said, “We don’t HAVE TO, but we will.”

Paul looked both ways and crossed the corner over towards his house by himself. Marybeth and Hannah walked across the street and towards their grandma’s house.

Kenny, Molly and I walked across the other street then toward our houses. We got to my house first, with their houses across the street.

Molly looked at me and said, “Tomorrow you should practice on your bike so you don’t need training wheels anymore. Then we can go riding like big kids together.” I nodded.

“My dad said I can get a bicycle too”, Kenny said, then looking worried, “But I don’t know when”. Molly and I nodded.

I looked at Kenny and said, shaking my head, “You don’t have to tell your mom and dad about our club.”

Kenny looked worried, but finally nodded his head and said, “Yeah okay, I guess so.” Then he looked even more worried and asked, “But what if my mom asks me what we were doing?”

“Just say we were playing in the lilac bushes”, Molly said. Kenny looked at her, still kind of worried, and nodded. They both walked across the street back to their houses.

That night mom read David and I stories because dad was busy working in his office down in the basement on his “dissertation”, that thing he had been working on for a long time. She started reading a new book called “A Child’s History of the World”. She sat in the rocking chair and read us the first chapter called “How Things Started”.

It was about a really long time ago before there were any people, or animals, or plants. Before there was even the Earth that we live on. There were just stars. She read…

One of these stars is our sun. Yes, our sun. The other stars would look the same as the sun if we could get as close to them. But at that time, so long, long ago, our sun was not just a big, round, white hot ball as we see it in the sky today. It was then more like the fireworks you may have seen on the Fourth of July. It was whirling and sputtering and throwing off sparks.

One of these sparks which the sun threw far off got cool just as a spark from the crackling log in the fireplace gets cool. And this cooled-off spark was… what do you suppose? See if you can guess.

It was our world! Yes, the world on which we now live.

Then she read about how our world was just a cooled off spark that was a giant ball of rock with steam all around it. The steam turned to rain and made giant “puddles” that were our “oceans”. And then the “living things” appeared. Tiny plants grew in the oceans that were too small to even see. Then tiny animals, “mites”, that you could barely see.

“Of course”, mom said, “There were no people yet to even try to see them.”

Then came things like insects. Some lived in the water, some on the water, some even on land. Then came fish in the water and frogs that lived in both the water and the land. She read…

Then, after this, came Snakes and huge Lizards bigger than alligators, more like dragons; and they grew so big that at last they could not move and died because they could not get enough food to eat.

Then, after this, came Birds that lay eggs and those Animals like foxes and elephants and cows that nurse their babies when they are born.

Then, after this, came Monkeys.

Then, last of all, came–what do you suppose? Yes–People–men, women, and children.

Here are the steps; see if you can take them:

“Okay”, said mom, looking at me and David too, smiling a little bit, but like she was going to tell us something special and secret, “Here are the steps. Remember, one thing leads to another. That’s how things work.”

She tilted her head to the left and put up her left hand and said, “Star”, with her voice going up. Then she tilted her head to the right and put up her right hand and said, “Sun”, with her voice going down. And like that she read through all the steps…

Star, Sun
Sun, Spark
Spark, World
World, Steam
Steam, Rain
Rain, Oceans
Oceans, Plants
Plants, Mites
Mites, Insects
Insects, Fish
Fish, Frogs
Frogs, Snakes
Snakes, Birds
Birds, Animals
Animals, Monkeys
Monkeys, People

Finally she read…

And here we are! What do you suppose will be next?

She opened her eyes really big and looked at David and then at me. I couldn’t figure out if she had read that question from the book or she had asked it herself. I did that thing where you push your lips together and raise your shoulders to say you don’t know, without having to say words. But then I thought if we are going to take over from these crazy grownups we had to figure out what was next.

Mom said goodnight to the two of us, kissed David’s head, wiggled his nose, found my big toe under my covers to wiggle it, then left the room. I could hear her walk through the kitchen and then step down a couple of the basement stairs.

I could hear her voice. “Eric. How’s it going?” I couldn’t hear if dad said something but mom stopped talking. Then she said, “I’m done reading to the kids. Do you want to take a break? You don’t have to sing to them EVERY night.”

Again I couldn’t hear if dad was saying anything. “Okay”, I heard mom say, “I’m shot. I’m going to curl up in bed with a book but probably will be asleep shortly. Don’t work too late!” I heard her walk through the kitchen and the living room and into their bedroom. I heard the creek of their bed as she sat down on it. I heard dad coming up the basement stair and then through the kitchen and living room before he peeked in our bedroom door.

He sat in the rocking chair and we sang two songs. David and I each got to choose one. David wanted the song he called “Mish”, which was really called “I want to go back to Michigan”. I wanted the “Whiffenpoof” song, because I liked watching dad when he sang it. He seemed happy when he sang it and seemed to think about things that he liked. I didn’t see him as much anymore because he was always not home or working on his “dissertation”.

After he was done and had said goodnight to us and wiggled our toes, I thought about the world being born, just like David and I were born. That was a long long time ago, so the world was really old, but it didn’t seem like it was “old”, like my grandmother or grandfather, or Marybeth and Hannah’s “Babcia”. The world was different now than when it was a “baby” and was just a giant rock with steam all around it. Now it had all those plants and animals and us people too. It was “growing up” too.

I thought about that question mom had asked about what was next. I thought about Tom Swift. He seemed to be trying to figure out what was next. I also thought about Captain Nemo. He maybe knew what was next, at least the Professor thought so, but he was really worried about it and maybe people weren’t ready yet. But I knew they were pretend people from stories, but maybe me and the other kids could be real people like them and figure out what was next.

I thought about the lilac bushes, and how they smelled like secret meetings and figuring out what was next.

I thought about the streetlights, that would now let us be big kids until they came on and we had to go home.

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