If you’re not ready, holler “Aye!”

I am standing in the kitchen making dinner, listening through the open window to Ryan and Nolan as they play whiffle ball in our front yard.. They’re actually playing nicely together, not being overly competitive.
Nolan stands over a patch of dirt, in front of a bush, which represents home plate, while Ryan hurls the ball towards him.
Ryan always tries to throw the ball too hard, and usually has trouble finding the strike zone, so Nolan just sits there, letting the ball bounce off of the house behind him.
Nolan comes in for a drink of water, and without even thinking I tell him, “It sounds like you guys are having a great time out there. Tell you what: you keep up this good attitude, and I’ll come out and play with you.”
Nolan does a little hop, and says, “COOL!” before he runs back outside. I hear him tell Ryan, “Wil says he’ll come play with us!”
They’re both excited to play with me…that’s cool. I’ve been really busy these past few weeks, finishing up my book, so I haven’t been able to play with the kids very much. They’re getting to that age where they want to hang out one minute, and the next minute I’m so incredibly uncool they can’t even stand to be in the same room as me. Hearing the genuine excitement in their voices makes my heart swell.
Dinner is really easy tonight: It’s a curried tofu with rice dish. I put the rice into the rice cooker, cut the tofu into cubes and put them in the pan. I dump a bunch of curry over them, and I race out to play.
I’m thirty years old and a parent, and I’m racing through my “chores” to go play outside.
When I get there, one of Ryan’s friends (who is also called Ryan) has come over to play, so we immediately separate into teams: Nolan and me against the Ryans.
Nolan steps back up to the plate, and Ryan proceeds to walk him. He then walks me, then Nolan again, and we quickly load the bases with ghost runners. The sun is rapidly sinking into the mountains to the west, and the ball is getting hard to see, so I suggest that we call the game so the Ryans can have a few at-bats. Nolan agrees, and we send our ghost runners back down to Triple-A as we head
into the field and take our positions on the grass, and in the street.
Nolan pitches a few balls to Ryan, but it’s really too dark to play any longer. Like every other time we’ve had to call a game on account of darkness, I resolve to install lights over our front lawn so we can play at night, local building codes and my wife’s desire for a normal suburban house be damned.
We’ve been having fun, though, and like the only child who finally has someone to play with, I don’t want to go back inside; back to being a grown up…so I suggest that we play hide and seek.
They all excitedly agree, and I’m It.
We quickly define the boundaries, and “Safe.” I close my eyes and count to one hundred by fives.
As I shut my eyes and begging to count, the world slows, and I hear my own voice, twenty-one years distant, calling out the same numbers. I’m nine years-old, head buried in my arms as I stand at the light pole on our street which was “Safe,” Boston plays on my parent’s Techniques turntable, while my dad cooks fish on the Webber Kettle in the back yard. I can smell the smoke as it drifts over the house and hangs in our yard, in the still summer evening.
5…10…15…20…25…30…
I’m ten years-old, and I run like crazy, trying to evade Joey Carnes. It is summer, hot and smoggy. My lungs burn with each breath.
35…40…45…50…55…60…
I’m eleven years-old, and I can hear the stomp, stomp, stomp of my feet hitting the ground as I look for a hiding place. It’s springtime, and the grass is cool and damp beneath me.
65…70…75…80…85…90…
I’m twelve years-old, hiding behind the side gate, crouched down, my arm just barely touching the arm of the girl I have a crush on as we hide together. While we listen to the kid counting, I try and fail to screw up the courage to hold her hand. In middle school, she’ll break my heart over and over again.
95…100! Ready or not, here I come!
I open my eyes, and I’m back on my street. The kids are well-hidden. Lost in my memories, I didn’t think to listen for their footfalls, and I have no idea where they may be.
I walk slowly around a hedge, and see Ryan begin to run across the street, towards “Safe.” I run at him, hoping to cut him off, but he’s too fast for me. During my pursuit of him, his friend has made it to “Safe,” leaving only Nolan undiscovered.
I walk down our street, towards our neighbor’s house, and see Nolan racing across the front yard next door. I give chase, and we both run straight through the heavy spray of several Rain Bird sprinkles. Nolan runs very, very fast, but ends up going Out Of Bounds. We return to “Safe,” laughing, wiping the water from our faces.
Nolan is It, and begins to count. I run across the street, hiding behind a tree. When I was a kid, I never hid behind trees, preferring cars and fences, with their clever ways to spot an approaching “It”…but I know that if I stand still in the October darkness, he’ll never see me. I’m wearing a black
“Ataris” T-shirt and long olive shorts…I’m practically invisible.
Nolan finishes his count, and the chase is on. It is several tries before he catches someone, but his attitude never sours. We are all having a great time playing together, being kids.
Finally, I am just too wiped out to play any more, and I head back inside. Anne asks me to drive Ryan’s friend home, and on the way to the car, Ryan’s friend tells him, “Your house is so much fun! You’re really lucky that your Step-dad plays with you.”
Ryan agrees, but warns him that we don’t always play like that…Ryan tells him that I’ve been writing a lot, so I spend a lot of time at my desk. It’s the first time in months that I’ve played with them like that, he says.
He’s right. Most of the time these days, I have to be a grown up, and I can’t play very much.
But last night, I got to be a kid again, if only for an hour or so, and while I appreciated the sentiment from Ryan’s friend, he didn’t quite have it right.
Yeah, there was a lucky guy out there playing…but it wasn’t Ryan.

172 thoughts on “If you’re not ready, holler “Aye!””

  1. *sniffle,sniffle*
    Thank you Wil!
    That was EXACTLY what I needed just now… a moment savored in remembering how much i love my children is a wonderful gift to be had. I’m distraught in the fact that my step-dad was an evil and disdainful waste of skin and air. But it’s hearing about moments like yours that make it all ok… The fact that there IS a man out there who would go out of his way to just be a kid and be WITH kids at the same time… It’s a beautiful memory and a gift that you have given and received…
    I hope you remember how important that simple hour or two was to them. Make it a point to let them know how happy you were that they let you play with them :)
    Eternally,
    Ember

  2. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one teary-eyed after reading this entry. I’m not a parent, but I used to teach 4th grade. I’ve hung out with some of my former students, but it’s been awhile. Reading this made me realize that I need to stop making excuses about being too busy and invite them over to Ms. J’s house for an afternoon of fun. They’ve been bugging me about it lately. I really want to read your book now, Wil!

  3. i’m 29 and my sisters and i still call ‘safe’ a ‘ghoul’… so you’re not alone, kevin.

  4. Wil,
    Time has a way of getting away from us but it is good to remember to always make time to play.
    F.G.

  5. Excellent entry. Cant wait for the book to come out. I’m glad you are enjoying your step children, and having fun with them while you can. Don’t let the relationship become like the song “Cats in the Cradle”. It’s happened with there Dad, don’t let it happen to you. One final thought, whats up with the TOFU! Can you deal with the smell of it while you cook it?

  6. Ouch…makes you remember it’s important to not always respond with “I’m busy right now!” when your kid pops up under your nose with a request to play.
    Thanks for the reality bite.

  7. Stepdads are an interseting bunch.
    My dad died when I was young, and my mom remarried a few years later. He turned out to be a complete jerk. They divorced 7 years later. After spending some time with a group of adults who were divorced or widowed, my Mom met another man. They dated for six years, before my Mom finally said yes to his marriage proposals. This Novemember they celebrate 17 years of married life. I love him, I respect him and he worships the ground my Mom walks on. He is a fine replacement for my late Father.
    I hope Ryan and Nolan think of you that way, Wil. It’s hard to accept for some children, especially if there is a divorce and not a death. But the fact that they liked having you play with them proves that you are not the evil stepfather some can be.
    Enjoy your time with them, and they’ll enjoy the time with you.
    Peace and Hope
    EM

  8. My father was more of the ‘intellectual taskmaster’ type, not the ‘play with you’ type. I think it had to do with his age… he was 31 when I was adopted. That said, there were a couple of times when we would play catch or whatnot in the back yard. There is NO substitute for memories like this. Thanks for writing this, Wil.

  9. You know, entries like this inspire me to dredge up some of my own childhood memories. I have to admit I don’t have many of them. I come from a family that didn’t do the “remember when” thing much, so memories didn’t get ingrained from re-tellings. My parents also weren’t the physical types and our rented house had a yard as big as a one car garage. But I do remember playing cards with my parents, and Monopoly, Parcheesi and other board games.
    I think there is something in actors that makes them reflective. Or there’s something in reflective people that makes them want to be actors. As an actor, baring your soul is a job requirement. Maybe you spend more time thinking about your own life events and how they can help you bring more realism to a scene. Actors are story tellers and I’m glad you’re able (and willing) to write down your stories for us to read.
    Thanks for the tofu plug. More folks should try it. One of those good for you, good for the environment foods. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy it. Curried tofu sounds great. I’m going to have to try making that. Maybe with grated carrots, tomatoes and some snow peas. I like my tofu best cold with soy sauce and grated ginger.
    Oh, and gee, Wil. What are you doing posting at 2:34 am? If you’re actually writing this great stuff so late, that’s amazing.

  10. thats coo dude, playing with your kids is good… my dad died when i was 1 year old, so i dont know what its like to have a dad..

  11. Wil,
    That was a great story Wil. I would like to say that it reminded me of my childhood but mine sucked. I had a military dad and got up every day doing situps and pushups and ironing my clothes for school. There was never any fun in mine. I am glad you are making fun time in your stepkids lives. It really is so important. Well I’m going to go now, your post made me feel happy and angry at the same time because it brought up so many memories from my lousy ass, shity childhood so……It is not your posts fault I just got a lot of issues with my horrible, shitty, piece of crap, childhood. (Oh yeah, I go to therapy..lol)
    Best to you and your family……
    Matt……

  12. Whoops.
    Ah, well. I screwed that up.
    Heres the pithy comment I was going to make.
    But what about the tofu? Won’t someone think about juicy morsels of curry flavored tofu burning in the frying pan?
    Oh the humanity, the horror, the soy!
    (Put down the flame-throwers, this is humor)
    \
    blah

  13. Ghost runners…yeah, those helped, especially when playing one on one
    And “Safe”, see, it was smart to designate “Safe” before you started playing, yeah, cause if you do it during…nope, just gets really really confusing…
    And Dads, Dads are cool…well, as long as they know when not to embarass the kid… :-)

  14. That brought back memories! Our whole neighborhood getting together (about a dozen of us). We would play hide & seek w/ the neighbor’s talented dog. Everyone had a dog snack in their pocket & would go & hide. The dog would come & find us!!! What a scare when you’re 8 having a dog “hunt” you down for the treat!
    All those childhood games, do kids even play them anymore? They should, I know mine will.

  15. PROBABLY MY MOST FAVORITE READ FROM YOU WIL!!
    MEMORIES!
    I cant wait for your book. I for one am not a big reader, but i get so wrapped up in what you write because its so real. You can read how much heart is put into it and you really can feel what your feeling. I LOVE THAT. If there were more books out there like that, i dont think i could put them down.

  16. Wil, this was so cute! : ) I read it twice and both times I had a smile on my face. You are a good step-dad. I can’t wait for the book!

  17. Your post made me think (again) of how much I want to be a dad.
    I respect your wisdom in appreciating what you’ve got.

  18. My dad was the pastor at one of the local churches and every once in a while he’d take us over to the church with friends or cousins and we’d play hide and seek in the church. (The sanctuary was always off limits though) Great memories of that. Thanks for triggering it!

  19. Two weeks ago I got to play hide and seek and tag and duck duck goose for the first time in many years with some of the neighborhood kids.
    Sinse I don’t have kids myself I get some funny
    looks, but it was great, in a way you’ve captured nicely. Mmmmm curried tofu.

  20. I am soooo jealous, my dad never used to play with me and my brother and sisters. He was too busy at ‘work’, yeah right, if you can call a blonde waitress ‘work’.
    Glad to hear you have the time Wil, don’t ever neglect your kids-but I’m sure, from reading this article, that you never will.

  21. Hey Wil,
    Glad to hear your stopping to smell the flowers and enjoy life. Even in the busiest and most hectic of times, it’s important to stop, and truly experience LIFE.
    Rock on Wil. Good to know that the “I” inside is enjoying himself.
    Beau

  22. Wil,
    Awsome. It is nice to be able to return to our childhood and revisit the good times. It is great that you have children to share that with and are able to really enjoy it!

  23. That was amazing to read wil! It reminds me of how I wished my childhood could have been. I was an only child in a military family so I never had friends for long cause we moved so much. Now that I’m a parent I’m grateful that I can spend time with my two little girls and play games with them. I sincerely hope that I can continue to play games with them as the grow. Well, keep up the good daddy side and you’ll have your place in their hearts and memories forever!

  24. damn that was beautiful……
    there’s just something exhilerating and magical about hide and seek…
    and the way you wrote it made me remember playing it back in the countryside i grew up in…(Peterborough Ontario…)
    thanks wil
    is it me, or has this site been progressively getting more and more addictive over the last year or so…
    everytime i read a story like this, i’m amazed, and begin anticipating the next one…
    there’s only about 2 or 3 sites i check every day on the web..
    and this one is numero uno.

  25. Maybe it’s because i’m a parent too, i don’t know; but you’re writing never resonates so deeply as when you’re writing about your family.
    Hugs From Histy.

  26. Wil,
    Reading this recent article made me realize something. That the simple way of life isn’t gone completely. Sure, a lot of times in today’s world, we are too busy in things to stop and have any fun. It’s what we do with those times that we can. Most of us just try to find more work to do. But, the simple life is sometimes the best….when there are no expectations and deadlines to worry about. When we can just be like we were so many years ago. I myself find myself caught up like that now….just getting out of college and trying hard to find work in my field. But reading this made me realize that during the course of working through college and now in trying to find a job, I’m missing out on the simplest things in life. I’m not sure when it happened actually, but I grew up, to my horror. So, I thank you for writing such a thought-provoking editorial that made us all go back to the simple things and become kids in our hearts all over again.

  27. Ok, I give up. What does the title have to with the story? I can’t match the lyrics running through my head with wiffle ball and hide-and-seek. “The People’s Republic of Choclatey-o-licious…the five percent nation of Casiotone.”

  28. “Curried tofu with rice dish.” YUCK! I guess that’s California cuisine. Tonight, we’re having meatloaf, instant mashed potatoes and green beans cooked in a little bit of olive oil with a little bit of garlic. Much more traditional, huh?
    Ah, the good ol’ days when you could play hide and seek at night and just be young and free. Boy, that was fun. I miss those days! :)

  29. Wil that was beautiful! :)
    the twelve year old part reminds me of Stand by me- I never had any friends later on like the ones i had when i was twelve, Jesus does anyone? that was a great part! speaking of Stand by me im reading “The Body” the book the movie is based on its really good but not as great as the movie!

  30. Wil-
    I won’t mention how beautiful that post was, because it’s been said. I just wanted to give you kudos on the Ataris t-shirt. It’s so amazing that I ‘know’ a celebrity, and he likes the same bands I do. Come see them in Chicago on Nov. 8! Hah, you’re probably way too busy. Thanks for the great story!

  31. Second post. I made a comment above about the dinner, among other things. Hey Wil, I’m curious, what kind of food do you and your family eat more of: “curried tofu with rice dish” or “meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans?”

  32. “safe” => “goal” => “gool” => “ghoul”

    yeah, my friends and I called it that too. is this a midwestern thing? :-O
    I’ll chime in, too. Sitting here in the cold computer room, letting a little tear well up; then another; then another; as I remember my own childhood; and as I remember the kids that I’ve been blessed to play with. Not my own, but every bit as loved as if they had been.

  33. I just read this story out loud to my daughter. Your writing is just simply growing by leaps and bounds. This particular story touched me deeply as it did for my daughter.
    I usually have difficulty with step-parents referring to themselves as ‘parents’ — but as I’ve aged, I’ve learned that a parent is more than blood or the mere sp*rm that aided the pregnancy/birth — a parent is one who feels the gap/void in a child’s life with that incredible thing; love. And a true love at that.
    Wil, as a religious reader of WWDN for years, I have witnessed so much growth in you as a young man, an artist, a comic, a geek, a husband/lover/friend to Anne and more importantly, Nolan and Ryan’s dad. Knowing nothing re: their biological dad (none of my business either) except the few comments you’ve made here and there, I do recognize that yours’ is a role that they desperately need and appreciate. Even if they don’t always show it. That’s just kids. I believe they’d be lost without you, nevertheless.
    I’ve been raising my little girl all her life alone for the most part. And yet not alone at all. My wife has been a part of me and my daughter’s life now since my daughter was a toddler. And even though my wife is NOT her biological mother, my daughter sees her as a mother more than a step-mother. And mostly because she (my wife) knew how to love and treat my baby from the beginning.
    Wil, please never ever feel that you’re on the wrong track when regarding your boys. Because you never could be. You love one another too much. They are truly blessed to have you as their dad as you (obviously) know that you are blessed to have them as your sons.
    Now go and be good monkeys together!
    -sam

  34. Wow, that was absolutely beautiful. I’m sitting here in the computer lab at my school trying to stop the tears that are welling up in my eyes from falling down my face. Thank you so much Wil for sharing your life with us. You are remarkable!

  35. Just a test comment to see if it takes. Nice entry, Wil! Will we see you out East on a book tour soon? Karen

  36. Reading your page usually makes me smile. Some I even chuckle. The last two entries made me chuckle through my smiles the whole way through.
    I love reading about when you enjoy being you, and enjoy your family.
    I love reading about the recognition and support you recieve from fans.
    I love reading your stories about growing up.
    I love feeling like I identify with you.
    Now sign my guestbook you bastard!

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