Breaking promises with an almost five-year-old is touchy business. With our particular almost-five-year old it’s nearly impossible and roughly 100% easier to just take whatever steps necessary to fulfill the promise rather than break it. Annabel made me pinky promise, in fact, that when we dropped Gram off at the doctor we would find and occupy a playground while we waited. In our house the penalty for breaking a pinky promise is clearly defined. It’s more moniker really than penalty:
You are a dirty dog. Period.
So we dropped off Gram and I headed to the closest playground without delay. Well, we’d never actually partied at any of the playgrounds in this particular town but I had one in my mind that I had spied from the road many times. We were soon foiled as that one was behind some kind of childcare facility and completely fenced off to us intrudery, homeschooler types.
“hmmmmmmmm,” I said, “that one is all fenced in."
“Daaaaaaaad, you’re gonna be a dirty dog.” she warned.
Gee, I didn’t see that one coming.
“Give me a chance, Annabel, I’ll find something fun for us to do.”
Being natural masters of the English language all three of the kids in the van immediately interpreted that to mean that I wasn’t going to continue searching for playgrounds. They were correct. And they voiced their disapproval openly. Just so happened that this was the first legitimately Spring-feeling day of the season and my mind immediately leapt to a river trail I’d been meaning to explore in the neighborhood. I quickly told the kids a sort-of true story about how school playgrounds weren’t really open for everybody when school was in session and I kind of do believe that some schools are probably like that, and understandably so. The important part was that our discussion around the nuances of playground etiquette gave me ample time to find the river trail.
“Wow! Look at that cool-looking trail that goes right along the river!”
“Let’s check that out – Gram is gonna be out soon and we won’t have done anything. C’mon!!”
Begrudgingly they followed through the muck and puddles and mire of the parking lot up to the trailhead marked by the remnants of an old train trestle where the tracks crossed the river. I lead them up to the top of the granite slab and we looked across the water where, as if on cue, a little mink popped out onto the snow. Its silky brown was plain to see against the white and it stood up to get a better look at us before scampering quickly to the waters edge and sliding sleekly into the slow current.
“I can still see it!” whispered Adelaide.
“Me too!” Annabel lied.
“Papa, watch!” Harper jumped from the bank and skidded cleanly back onto the trail in a dead run heading up river.
I gave myself a mental fist bump and knew the only challenge now was getting in all the action we could before Mom was out of the doctors office, probably about 45 minutes.
The trail was wide and still covered in ice which was slick with water from the temps quickly approaching 60f. The kids ran and fell and broke through the ice and made snowballs and kept veering off to go see what the river looked like every couple of minutes. It felt good to be wet and muddy and have that Sun burning softly against our faces to keep us warm. Even after a mild winter like this one has been, that first day of spring gets the welcome of an old friend.
Without complaint they all hurried back to the van when I said it was time. The short car ride was full of energy for what might happen next. Sure enough it spilled out and over to the homestead where Adelaide quickly gathered tools and scrap wood and started working on a miniature version of a goat chariot that she’d been pondering. Harper grabbed his bike, lubed up the chain, put air in the tires and was off with the wind in his hair and big smile across his face. Ani and I just walked and looked at how things were changing all around. The snow was leaving quickly, the melted water following its regular route down the hill toward the trees. We checked the sap buckets and sipped its cold sweetness. She held my hand as we walked around and talked about things.
Finally she gave a big sigh, “Papa?”
“You’re not a dirty dog.”
“Awwwww. I love you too, Annabel.”