Running with the Wolf Pack
"Don't pick that up, Johnny," my cousin Kevin, 7, said matter-of-factly. "It's gross."
I watched in amazement as Johnny put it down. If I had said what Kevin said, Johnny would have put the algae in his hair and done a voodoo dance as the creek water dripped down his face. Just to make me cringe.
When little boys get together, they form a sort of wolf pack. The alpha is the oldest, and strangely, the younger cubs follow him. They gladly listen. No one listens to mama wolf, on the other hand, unless she growls. But that wasn't necessary last night as we hiked along the trail. Little boys tend to be wise leaders.
Remembering our last trip to the creek, the boys prayed on the way. To them, it is a mysterious place, requiring strength from above before the scramble down its banks to the ankle deep water.
"I hope no bad guys wrote bad words and I hope God brought a new statue of Mary," Johnny said.
"I hope no dogs got killed by the creek," Kevin said.
"I hope Nana gets a bandaid," Richie said. Nana, who lives across the street from the creek, was hurting badly yesterday from her fall downstairs a few days ago.
Once at the creek, Kevin, the leader of the pack, made a rule that he and Johnny had to let Richie keep up with them. Richie, 3, who ordinarily wouldn't put up with getting a drop of water on his shirt, crawled under thorn bushes and walked through reeds taller than him to keep up with the pack.
The boys investigated a mystery. Or looked for one to investigate, rather. They saw handprints lacking thumbprints--obviously pointing to a conspiracy to steal people's thumbs, Kevin said.
Neither of Johnny's prayers came true. The statue of Mary was still missing and bad words were sprayed on a nearby tree.
Reading the white spraypaint, Kevin said, "It's the worst bad word word in the whole world. The f-word."
Richie examined the writing on the tree and looked at me gravely.
"It says, 'Butt in the pants,'" he said.
He wrinkled his nose at the nerve of some people. He would never use such language. It's not like he walked through the house chanting it earlier in the week. No. He uses nice words, like "pantsy pants," "bubble bottom" and "butt(on.)"
The boys followed Kevin through the cement tunnel under the street. On the other side, Kevin showed them "Indian boats," hollow milkweed pods, which they floated downstream. They looked for the widest places in the creek to cross at their peril. Finally, Kevin slipped down the banks and got his feet wet. Naturally, that meant everyone waded through the creek from then on.
When I was growing up, "peer pressure" was the big bad wolf of childhood. There was a "peer" lurking behind every tree, urging you to smoke a cigarette. We had to plan how we would say no. Mine was going to be something like, "No thanks. I don't want to die today." I was disappointed when I never got to use it, but had to pressure my peers to give me a cigarette instead in high school. People are a lot stingier than the anti-tobacco people think.
So to avoid the negative connotation, I'll call what happened yesterday "pack pressure."
When it was time to go home, Kevin sprinted to the car, and Johnny and Richie followed after him, pumping their arms. No arguments. Pack pressure is the big good wolf of childhood.