On a warm July afternoon, at a random McDonald's playground, my 13-year-old son found himself wriggling through the metaphorical fence dividing the wild abandon of boyhood from the too-cool-for-school of adolescence.
While trying to squeeze through that narrow place of passage in a man's life, many a boy snags his pants on a rusty nail and has to figure out if his best option for freeing himself is to go back (risking his mama fussing at him for ripping his pants, again) or to go forward (risking his mama fussing at him for not telling her where he was headed and for ripping his pants, again).
Awfully bad, my son wanted to crawl into the colorful tubes with his younger cousins, two years old, 18 months old, and 11 years old, and whoosh down the slick slides behind them. When he decided to postpone his foray beyond the fence and wiggle back to boyhood to explore the human Habitrail, he found the seat of his pants hitched on something sharp and unforgiving.
Girls - the age-old rusty nail.
Two teenage girls, a blond and a brunette, just his types, as all girls are these days, sat at a table sharing an order of fries and giggling. For a teenage boy, the sound of girls giggling triggers an overwhelming fear that maybe his nose became suddenly enlarged or his ears stuck out extraordinarily far.
Naturally, my son couldn't risk having, girls, total strangers or not, think he lacked an ounce of suave about himself. Pulling up short of the opening of the blue tube, he self-consciously took a seat at a nearby table where he practiced dipping French fries in ketchup casually and eating them like he didn't care if he ate them or not. He waved off his 11-year-old cousin, saying, in the deepest voice he could muster, "Let me know if you need anything."
"OK," the 11-year-old disappointedly conceded before shifting into kid gear and rambunctiously motoring into the tubes right behind the two younger cousins.
And it passed.
And even though the girls paid him little attention while text messaging and applying lipstick, my son struggled to get himself unhung from that rusty nail. He began to worry he would be stuck in that uncomfortable position, halfway on one side of the fence and halfway on the other, forever.
But then, his ears pricked at the sound of his baby cousin crying. He seized the moment. This was his ticket to impress the girls and satisfy his need to get inside that plastic playscape.
Walking over to an opening and putting his face just inside, he called, "Y'all need any help in there?" He listened hard for a response, a plea of distress that would allow the boy he's not ready to leave behind to become the hero he hopes to be.
"Everything alright up there?" he yoo-hooed again.
"I can come up if you need me to," he yelled somewhat louder, more desperate.
About that time the girls picked up their purses and left, still giggling. My son watched them sashay out of sight, relieved that his nose and ears immediately reverted to normal sizes.
With that, he released himself from the rusty nail.
Hearing hoots and hollers from somewhere deep in the heart of the playground, he scrambled up a red slide whooping and hooping in chorus.
The world on the other side of that fence will always be there, waiting, but this backyard, well, it's hard to know how much longer it will hold him.
(Lucy Adams is a syndicated columnist, freelance writer, and author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny. She lives in Thomson. Lucy invites readers to e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org and to visit her Web site, www.IfMama.com.)