A few weeks ago my son (who is 10) exploded into the house after he’d been playing at a neighbor’s house. He was hot, sweaty, and angry. I braced myself for a report of some heinous act perpetuated by his friends, or an account of a tragic injury.
Instead, he just yelled, “The ice cream man left me!”
Apparently he had heard the magic tinkling of bells, and had done his best Tom Cruise/Mission Impossible impression to catch the van full of carcinogenically dyed goodies. He had run through other people’s yards, jumped fences, skirted ditches, all to watch the ice-cream man round the corner and disappear from our neighborhood for the day.
He threw himself into a chair, still angry that the ice-cream man hadn’t seen him, hadn’t stopped, that he had wasted all that effort getting to him for nothing. For NOTHING! Man, childhood is SUCH a rip off.
Today, *I* heard those magic tinkling of bells. I said to my daughter, who is 4, “Hey, do you hear that?” She shrugged, and said, “It’s just probably a flute.” I realized that she didn’t know what it was. At 4 going on 5, she had no idea what those sounds meant, the experience that awaited her. I debated for a second, knowing that if I never told her, my life as a parent would be easier. No running after the van, no scrambling for loose change or extra dollar bills (yeah, in case you were wondering, it doesn’t cost a quarter anymore), no angry tantrums when they inevitably miss the ice-cream man (or when spare change or dollar bills just aren’t to be found. I doubt the ice-cream man takes American Express.).
But I quickly made up my mind, leaned down so I was at eye level with my preschooler, and whispered, “That’s the ICE-CREAM man! Let’s go–we have to catch him!”
So I grabbed the pile of loose change that has been collecting in a random box on my bookshelf (please tell me you have one of those, too), and raced outside to see if I could eyeball the van. And glory be–YES! There he was, just a block down the road, stopped at a neighbor’s house with kids crowding around. My dog had followed us out of the house, and at the sight of all the kids, took off as fast as her fat legs could carry her. I started running too, and said to my daughter, “QUICK! We have to catch him!” as I ramped up to a sprint.
As I ran, I yelled and waved my hands, making as much noise as I could. Some people thought I was running after my dog, and they restrained her, but I shook my head and shouted, “No, STOP THE ICE-CREAM MAN!” They laughed, and told the guy to wait. I caught up to him, panting, and slumped over his window, out of breath but happy. I waved my daughter to catch up, and as soon as she saw the big ice-cream icons on the van, her eyes widened and she shouted, “It’s ICE-CREAM!” She picked out one of the biggest, most colorful ice-cream pops on the board, and was practically vibrating with excitement as the man handed it to her. I then told her we had to pick one for her brother (who was playing again at the afore-mentioned neighbor’s house), and she picked out one just as big and just as colorful for him. We went and picked him up at his friend’s house, and my daughter handed him the ice-cream. He grinned and said, “Where did you catch him?”
We told him the whole story as we strolled back home, the kids licking their ice-creams, the dog trotting along next to us.
And I thought as I listened to my children and walked with them that this was a perfect childhood moment, a snapshot that I could have never created or planned out, but felt blessed to be a part of. I love moments like that. I store them up, letting them fill my soul. And I hope and pray that when my kids think back on their childhoods, that these good moments will stand out in sharper relief than the bad ones where their mother was short with them, or mad, or sad, or just plain didn’t get it done.
And I know I’ll have to remember this moment in August, when chasing the ice-cream man has gotten really, really, REALLY old.
What moments in your childhood do you treasure?