They marched out of the old Orchard Prairie schoolhouse, eyes alight with excitement.
“Are they done yet?” asked the oldest.
The three boys had been waiting for their mom, the school’s PTO president, to finish an afternoon meeting that I’d just left.
I’d paused to take a picture of the historic schoolhouse when the boys bounded into view.
They’d been busy while they waited.
“We catched a spider!” shouted the littlest boy. “A GINORMOUS spider!”
The middle brother shouldered him out of the way.
“We put it in a Gatorade bottle that I found,” he said.
His older brother held the spider aloft, soldiering on in search of their mother, while the youngest stayed behind, eager to explain his role in the capture.
“I founded it first!” he said. “Back there!”
He pointed behind the building, bouncing with excitement.
Then he hurried to catch up with his brothers.
That encounter brightened a long Monday and memories of my sons tumbled through my mind.
Once upon a time, I had four little boys whose summer adventures frequently included capturing creepy crawlies.
For the record, I’m not a fan of creepy crawlies, but I am a fan of boys and boundless curiosity.
Summer often seems endless when you’re an at-home mom. Endless can equal excruciating when bored boys fight over video games. I worked hard to balance planned activities while leaving room for unstructured play. Anything to keep my busy boys away from electronic devices and spontaneous wrestling matches.
One summer, I grew tired of my Tupperware being used to re-home spiders and insects, so I bought the boys a bug-catching kit. It came with a net, a magnifying glass, tweezers and a plastic container to house their captures.
They spent hours turning over rocks, crawling under decks, and digging through dirt to find new specimens.
We checked out bug books from the library to help identify their finds and to recognize spiders they should avoid.
I realized that backfired when I overheard my middle son saying to his younger brother, “Nope. That’s not a black widow. Keep looking.”
In retrospect, it’s amazing that no one got bit or stung.
I wished I’d been more patient when they careened through the house, shrieking with excitement, holding a newly captured specimen aloft.
Instead, I often feigned interest and wearily reminded them of the “no bugs in the house” rule. In my defense, you can only rave about the coolness of pill bugs a finite number of times.
I just didn’t realize how quickly those summers would pass. Older friends tried to warn me.
“Slow down, enjoy these days, it all goes too fast,” they said.
Sometimes I did slow down enough to savor the sight of four little boys crouching in the driveway, watching a row of ants march across the gravel.
I wish I had a picture of that. But when my sons were small, cellphones didn’t come with cool cameras. Capturing memories meant running back inside the house, trying to unearth a camera.
Summer can seem endless, but it isn’t. You blink and suddenly there’s a chill in the night air and the leaves start to turn.
As I watched the three little boys run across the Orchard Prairie schoolyard with their ginormous spider, I wished I’d taken their photo.
I would have sent it to their mother.
A snapshot of a boyhood that will disappear in the blink of an eye.