A few days before the birth of our first baby, Mark and I took a walk around our apartment complex. Tired of being pregnant, we walked a lot in those last few weeks in order to move things along with my labor. This time we walked to a creek with a little wooden bridge over it. We were leaning over the railing trying to find signs of aquatic life when a group of boys came barreling up on their bikes. Jumping off their Huffys, they all crouched down along the muddy bank and Mark asked them what they were hoping to find. "Crawdads," they all said. "There's crawdads in this creek." They spent a few minutes poking around until most of them got bored and rode away. Two boys stayed behind keeping up the persistent search until one screamed, "GOT ONE!!!! GOT A DEAD CRAWDAD PINCHER!" It was a like a call to arms and from every direction the boys who had abandoned the search came pedaling back to the creek to see the dead crawdad pincher for themselves and roll it around in their hands..
"I don't know what this baby is," I said to Mark, "but I've gotta have a boy before my baby making days end."
That first baby was a beautiful girl and a few years would pass before a boy entered our life. He was a lot like the boys that we saw that day. He brought home every crawling, slithering, hopping, flying and creeping thing that crossed his path, and our basement and backyard was a temporary nature center for the kinds of living creatures that I would have preferred to have been left where they were found.
Two weeks ago we were eating Sunday dinner when Maggie told us about an accident that she had heard about a few hours earlier at the Schlitterbahn water park. It happened on the Verrucht slide - the tallest water slide in the world and an ominous presence that all of us have seen dozens of times from the highway. We read about it before it was built, saw it as it was being built and then the final product. That final product made my stomach drop whenever I passed it. There is another water park in town that we had taken our kids to a few times but by the time this one was built our kids were old enough to go on their own if they wanted to. There were no takers for that kind of thrill seeking.
The initial details of the accident sounded horrific and I chose to believe that they couldn't possibly have been as bad as what people were saying. The local news media reports were vague about the cause (and to date there are still ongoing investigations) but subsequent reports of the severity of the boy's injuries seem to be as awful as had been initially stated.
I can't stop thinking about this ten year old boy, his mom and dad who left their house that afternoon with four children and came home with three, the two women in the raft with this boy, the lifeguards at the top and bottom of the slide, the older brother who went down the slide first and was waiting for his younger brother to follow, the people in the park who saw too much on their way out, the police and fire department who responded to the accident.
A few days after it happened I was at work heating up my lunch when I said to one of the grad students in our office, "I can't believe what happened on Sunday to that little boy at the water park." And he said, "Geez, thank you. It's all I can think about and nobody is talking about it around here. I can't even stop with the questions and the wondering and what the heck? How did this happen? How did they think that somebody wasn't going to get hurt on that thing?" Every day that was the daily discussion between us until we exhausted ourselves on velcro straps, weight distribution, metal bars, nets, water slides vs. rollercoasters, a funeral, lawsuits.
Everywhere I have gone recently I keep seeing little boys. At Target I overheard two boys talking about the pros and cons of a gaming system, on the drive home I passed some boys on their bikes headed to the public pool, at work a little boy came with his mom while she got her new school i.d., the boys up and down the street in my own neighborhood.
It was as if the Universe was saying you need to pay attention to our boys.
A few days after that accident happened two boys in Kansas City were shot and killed in their own home. They were cousins - one eight, the other nine and their grandmother said of the still unknown killers, "They have destroyed us." And then there is the heartbreaking photo of the shell-shocked and bloodied little boy in Syria whose picture will haunt most of us forever.
About a year ago I came across something on a walk along the creek near my house. I didn't know what it was but I stuck it in my pocket and brought it home. When I showed it to Mark he smiled, handed it back to me and said, "It's a dead crawdad pincher."
We need to pay attention to our boys.