WHEN IT RAINS
by Jennifer Brown
For months I had been on the front lines of a battle in my home. It wasn't a pretty battle. Not glamorous at all. No made-for-TV movies would be made glorifying my efforts, no best-selling books would be written, of that I was sure, but still it raged on daily. And still I marched forth proudly, hopeful as any soldier that right would prevail.
The enemy: commercialism that had taken my two kids hostage, threatening to squash their little brains by replacing their imaginations with pre-imagined creativity.
You see, for years I had felt the war brewing in the distance, choosing to ignore it as my daughter plunked a video game into the machine or a CD into the computer. I turned my head to the reality of the enormous amount of batteries I was buying on a weekly basis, covered my ears to audio books, and pretended I didn't notice that nearly all of my son's entertainment was store-bought, piped in, or power-driven. But I simply couldn't ignore the signs forever. My children were losing their most valuable asset in life - their imaginations - and I just couldn't sit by any longer and allow it to happen.
I embarked by turning off the television, but that only resulted in fighting, whining, and lame but admittedly very tempting attempts at bribery. Refusing to admit failure, I instituted Family Night, but that soon turned into an exhausting weekly game of "Let Mom entertain us." Soon my Family Night ideas were stale, my mood less than pleasant, and my own attention wanting to return to the blissfully silent evenings of Internet browsing or chuckling over a sitcom in the living room. So I tried carting them to the museum ("It's too creepy," whined my daughter, Paige), the zoo ("I'm hot," complained my son, Weston), and even just the plain old city park. But in a world filled with amusement parks and water parks, the plain old city park seemed, well, plain. And old. And totally devoid of amusement.
But, knowing in my heart of hearts that my mission was worthy, and being determined as I am to keeping their tiny imaginations alive, I persisted. I knew I had to change course. I put my foot down and launched headfirst into full battle.
"We're going to the playground," I demanded one evening, "at least once a week." I tried to ignore their gaping mouths and pressed on.
"Furthermore, it's not going to be some fancy playground or whichever playground in the city my car can drive you to. We will be going to the plain old school playground up the street and we'll be walking there." Exercise and imagination. Double victory.
The eyes started rolling and heavy sighs of monsoon proportions gusted through the living room.
"But I'm watching this dating show," Paige protested.
"I know," I answered, gathering my hair into a ponytail. "That's why we're going."
"I want to go to the big park," Weston tried.
"Too bad," I countered, slipping into my walking shoes. "You can go there when you have your own kids."
"But it looks like rain," said my husband, Scott.
My eyes darted to the window. He was right. It did look like rain. But it was a risk I was willing to take.
"Okay, we'll drive," I conceded, grabbing my car keys and herding them out the door.
Of course, we weren't there long when the first drops of rain splattered on the slide. I tried to ignore it. I avoided everyone's gaze and pretended I saw no raindrops whatsoever. I couldn't retreat from the battle; it looked like I might be winning. Weston had discovered a cargo net and had just begun to climb it and I even thought I saw the faintest hint of a smile turning up the corners of Paige's mouth as she tried out the monkey bars. I could almost taste triumph.
A few drops won't hurt us, I told myself, but before I could even finish the thought, a downpour worthy of a Bible story bore down on us. Covering my head, I shouted for the kids to run for the car.
It was then that I heard the trumpets and bugles and whatever other musical instruments reminiscent of victory ringing in my ears.
"Awww, Mom, do we have to?" the kids cried in unison, dragging their feet behind me. "We want to play in the rain."
Had I not been sprinting to my car, I may have danced.
As I darted across the parking lot and shoved the kids into the car, a monumental, possibly even ludicrous, definitely unheard of idea occurred to me: maybe we didn't even need a playground to entertain us. I started the car and hurried home.
As we pulled into the garage, Paige cried, "Hey, Mom, don't close the garage door. I'm going to play in the rain."
"Me, too!" cheered Weston as they clambered out of the car.
"No, you're not," Scott started, but I quieted him with a hand on his arm.
"There's no lightning," I whispered. "Let's just watch."
He gave a disapproving look but stood in the shelter of the garage and peered out at the kids. They were laughing, Paige turning in circles with her arms outstretched and Weston singing with his face turned up to the sky, his open mouth catching the drops. They were oblivious to us. Better yet, they had forgotten about reality television, their video games, battery-powered robots, and fancy, expensive toys. They were imagining. Beautifully, childishly imagining. They were enjoying simplicity. And I had never before enjoyed so much watching my children play. I had never before felt so proud, so honored to be another foot soldier in the battle of good mothering.
I began to see them as adults, remembering wistfully the days that they played in a rain shower and pretended to be a band of Indians successfully dancing a rain dance or storm-chasing scientists swept away by a tornado. I could see places where their imaginations could take them: schoolteacher, doctor, writer, inventor. It didn't matter to me. As long as they remembered to nurture that part of their brains. The part that tells them that there is always something more out there in this world. Something totally, amazingly un-thunk by anyone else. Something deliciously creative, borne entirely of fancy. I began to feel confidence that my babies would be okay in this world. They could enjoy simple pleasure.
It wasn't long before I was dancing on the driveway too, my t-shirt sticking to me and droplets of water hanging from the end of my nose. Even Scott ventured out to race a stick against Weston's leaf along the curb to the gutter. And he smiled, too, forgetting to worry about lightning or about the mess of wet clothes that we would have to deal with once inside.
Seems when it rains simple pleasures, it pours.
Jennifer Brown is a stay-at-home mother of three and writes from Kansas City, MO. She enjoys writing both fiction and non-fiction and her poetry has appeared in Storyteller magazine. Contact Jennifer.