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. I actually have been thinking alot lately about my life growing up. Since my mother passed away this summer I find that I have been spesking with my older sister a lot more than I had been. We had a wonderful converation the other week about her daughter going to dance class and my nephew bowling at the old neighborhood alley that we went to as kids. It’s like they are living our lives again.
    This weekend my best friend since grade school is getting married and I am flying home for the ceremony. I will be home on Saturday morning and the only thing that I want to do is take my niece to dance class and then head over to the bowling alley for burgers and milkshakes.
    Thank you for sharing this with us. It brought back a lot of long forgotten memories of hiding within the low branches of the enourmous pine tree and playing tag in the field behind the house.
    I can’t wait for the book.

  2. I don’t leave a lot of comments, I don’t really see the point, but I just thought I’d say that of all your posts in recent weeks, this one touched me quite deeply. You’re a lucky man, that you have that opportunity, however brief, to revisit childhood. Too many adults forget what it means to be a kid. May you forever be so blessed.

  3. My husband’s parents were killed when he was 12. Play time stopped for him. We don’t have any kids, but 3 great nephews, and he dosen’t miss any chance he gets to spend time with them, playing cars, baseball, fishing or introducing them to black and white King Kong movies. Always make time to play.
    P.S.
    We called it “Home”

  4. Wil et al.,
    I purchased Timothy Ferris’ new book today, “Seeing in the Dark”, and there’s a wonderful passage in there about his father. He talks about how he and his buddies got part-time jobs on Saturdays and Sundays when they were 12. One day, his father pulled up in a car with the back seat jammed full of balls and other fun stuff, and told them that if they only worked one day on the weekend, he’d pay them the money they were losing. He was concerned they weren’t having a childhood, and figured school was their work. It’s a very cool passage, and I encourage everyone to have a look at this book.

  5. Who said time travel isn’t possible. For me, your thoughts made me remember how much hope I had as a child. How I looked so forward to what was next. Whether it was my birthday or Christmas or the next time I would see my friends.
    Eventhough those times have long past they live so fresh in my mind. I’m glad I’m not the only one who likes to rekindle the kid inside.
    thanks wil

  6. Children can preserve the nature of Mankind, I just hope for Peace, War these days are becoming more profitable. It would take a Genuis to make Peace more profitable than War. Are your kids genuises?

  7. That was really, really sweet. You probably know this already, but you have a very nice way with words.

  8. Will, is this really you? When did you get to be old enough to be a dad let alone be married. This is my first time on this website and I find that you must be getting old, not me! It’s really great that you enjoy your children and make time for them. So many parents are busy that their prorities are messed up. Good luck.

  9. Even though I know you are Wil Wheaton and actually have a voice to put to the name – while reading this particular entry internally you sounded like Daniel Stern.

  10. Well..just as everyone else has said, this post was beautiful, and brought back memories for myself as well. We used to call it ‘home’, and all the neighborhood kids would play. There was also this football player guy who lived up the street, Tim Cowens was his name. He played on our local CFL Team, the BC Lions. He would come out and play with us all the time. He was the coolest adult we knew.
    My father was always working too much to ever take the time to play with me, and I had no siblings, so I played alone alot. But my father always took the time to teach me things, even if he couldn’t play. I appreciated any time he was able to take with me. And Wil, I’m sure Ryan and Nolan appreciate your time as well. To children, and hour can seem an eternity, even though to us as adults, it’s a flash in the pan.
    In closing, take the time. It’s worth it, and remembered forever.
    Turrelle

  11. Its stories like this that keep me coming back to this website. For me, the childhood game was Kick-the-can. The neighbors fell asleep by 8 p.m. so they really did not mind all the noise in the street. I really miss summer days in my hometown playing with my childhood friends and my Dad. Gee…being away at school makes me so nostalgic!

  12. i really love when you write about the kids. your love shines through in every word. you’re both very lucky!

  13. I changed the title of this entry from “Five Percent Nation,” which was a reference to Soul Coughing, because I was just informed that “Five Percent Nation” is also the name of a very violent group of activists.
    That just isn’t cool.
    Dammit.

  14. Never forget moments like this my friend… Someday, there will come a time when your children are grown, and have families of their own. You’ll sit in your favorite chair, and you’ll look around your house…your empty house…and you’ll remember the nights, when your children were more than just children…they were your best friends…

  15. Violence sucks, Wil.
    By the way, if it makes you feel better about the gay Starfleet mess dress uniform… I’m joining the Air Force very very soon, and I’m going to be required to wear a dress uniform that looks JUST like that. :-)
    Brad

  16. I think what is really interesting is that one of the main roles you are known for is the role of the boy who grows to be the writer, who is the main narrative voice in STAND BY ME (Stephen King’s THE BODY), and when you started really getting into your writing here on your site, it’s that same voice you immediately tapped into…the real voice of remembering, the one that is filled with all the magic. I’ve seen a lot of people strive for that voice but get lost in psychoanalysis. This entry more than the others definately taps right back into that. How long has it been since you’ve gone back and watched that movie? *grin*

  17. Wil, you constantly take me by surprise with your great writing and refreshing outlook on life. This is why I visit your site. This is why I miss it when I skip a day.
    If your book is as good as this simple yet poignant remembrance of childhood, you’ve already sold a copy.
    And thank you for taking the time to share this with us.

  18. Re. Five Percent Solution.
    Well, I seldom understand your titles, anyway. Today I was reading a chapter of Salman Rushdie’s “Step across this line”, and he has a chapter in there called “Resevoir Frogs” on the current penchant for meaningless titles. I prefer to think it’s that (your problem), rather than my lack of cool.

  19. Monday night in Times Square, “Bowling for Columbine” had its premiere. The crowd was amazing, as it was this past Saturday night at the Chicago Film Festival. The audience kept laughing or hooting or applauding so loud throughout the film that it was hard to hear the next line.
    The hate mail, the threats, the promises of retribution have already started to roll in to the distributor of this movie, United Artists. They are not backing down. But how long will this last? I need all of you in the New York tri-state and southern California areas to go see “Bowling for Columbine” THIS weekend — the rest of you can see it in a couple of weeks when it comes to your town. A strong opening not only means that the rest of America will see this film, it means that a good number of people who see it are going to leave the film angry enough to get active and get involved. If it does poorly, I will have a difficult time finding the funding for the movie I want to make next — a film about 9/11 and how Bush is using that tragic day as a cover for his right-wing agenda.
    Don’t let that happen. Don’t let the NRA have one more success by stopping the wider distribution of this movie. And, together, let us not remain silent in our opposition to Bush’s phony war against Iraq.
    If you live in New York, you can see it at the Lincoln Plaza, the Sunshine and the Loews 19th St. In L.A., you can catch it at the Sunset 5, the Westwood Regent, Laemmle Sunset, Laemmle Towncenter (Encino), Landmark Rialto (Pasadena), and Regal University (Irvine). Also, please forward this to your other friends and tell them to go see “Bowling for Columbine” this weekend.

  20. There’s an older (new) country song that reminds me of you. It’s called, “He didn’t have to be” by Brad Paisley. It’s about a boy talking about his step-father; how he came into his life and how he was the father he’d always needed, even though he didn’t have to be. It’s a beautiful song. Every time I read the wonderful things you say about your sons, I’m reminded of that song. It makes me all mushy. :) Thanks for being a good dad. You rock!

  21. Gee – that brings back so many memories. I was an only child, so I mostly played hide & seek with my parents…and my beloved cat. The cat, it turns out, was always the one to find me where I was hiding – making it awfully easy for the “it” person to track me down….aaahhh….those were the days.
    I hope you get more time to be lucky and play with the boys…

  22. dude, you rock!
    i’ll admit when i first read about you as a writer i thought “Wil Wheaton? a writer?” but now i am convinced. its easy to simply type words to convey any experience, but its much harder to express the emotions of that experience in such a way that it connects so easily with the audience…especially when those words do not seem contrived. it seems your words caused many of us to take a small break from real life and look back ourselves…thanks, i needed that… :-)

  23. The older I’ve grown, the more I’ve come to believe that “being a kid again” is a key to happiness and well-being. Too many people I know spend their time doing what they’re supposed to do, plodding through life like robots, minds glued to the idiot box. It is tremendous fun to let loose, to forget how you’re supposed to act, and just to behave like a child with children, whether they’re two-years-old, five-years-old, or twelve-years-old.

  24. wil, this is sort of related to your entry, but I was wondering if maybe you could do an entry on your opinions on the case of the King brothers from Pensacola. You have two boys who are close to that age, and I was just wondering what your thoughts were. Maybe, though your website, some more attention can be generated. Thnx

  25. I always planned on being the “cool mom” in the neighborhood, playing with my kids and their friends and still having time to bake cookies. :) I hope I don’t forget that as my baby boy grows up. It’s been ages since I played hide-and-seek.
    You’re a good dad.

  26. Hey Wil,
    Longtime/firstime and all…
    Just here to echo most of the comments. That was beautiful, man. Really.
    Of course, the original 5% title sent you soaring from “pretty cool” to “totally cool” in my book. Soul Coughing ROX!
    I understand the decision to change it, however. And you get extra points for changing a Soul Coughing reference to a Schoolhouse Rock reference!
    So, when does that book come out?

  27. Beautifully put — your blog has been a joy for me to read for a while now.
    I’m also finishing a book (due soon, or my editor will show up on my doorstep, and we all know what that means…) and know how precious time off to “play” right now means.
    I’m so glad you were able to take the time for some childhood.

  28. OMFG! Wil Wheaton I felt like I was there, a ghost in the darkness watching you play hide and seek. When the time came to stop imagining, i was pulled back to my reaity of, like yours, adultness (is that a word?). To be taken back to when you (I) was a child, was great. Keep it up Wil, you make a lot of peoples days worth while with your writing. Makes helluva change from all the bad shit we have to see and read about :)

  29. Im gonna sing everyone a song look fimiliar to ya?
    I am sixteen going seventeen
    I know that I’m naive
    Fellows I meet may tell me I’m sweet
    And willingly I believe
    I am sixteen going seventeen
    Innocent as a rose
    Bachelor dandies, drinkers of brandies
    What do I know of those?
    Totally unprepared am I to face a world of men
    Timid and shy and scared am I
    Of things beyond my ken
    I need someone older and wiser
    Telling me what to do,
    You are seventeen going on eighteen
    I’ll depend on you!

  30. days like that are not only great memories for you…they’ll also end up in your kids book of dreams…and they may write someday of this faraway time…or remember it with fondness.

  31. Hi all,
    I just wanted to say to Kevin, we called the safe ghoul. Maybe it is a geographical thing? I grew up in the northeast (US). Although, I was playing with my son and some other children we befriended at the local park about a week ago and when I mentioned to them that as a child we called it ghoul they looked at me like I had three heads and then talked to my son about how old his mom is. Ahhh, the days when you use to think someone that is 26 is ancient!

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