From the parents’ perch on the picnic side of the creek, we watch as our newly minted three-year-olds tackle the opposite hill. That side is kid territory, the landscape well worn and frayed like a favorite blanket. The tree-fort connects to the creek via a plastic slide. A short rope swing sways a foot above the rocks and water, offering an opportunity to cross without getting wet.
Time trickles away in this place, and even at its deepest point, the water is no taller than my toddler. I warn him to stay in the shallow end anyway, and I estimate 10 minutes until he’s soaked. He asks for five, repeating the phrase that has becomes his way of saying goodbye to all of the places we visit, or not saying goodbye.
“Five more minutes.”
Sometimes it ends in a rising intonation that implies a request. Other times, he adds a please. This time it’s a statement, clear as the water and rocks under his feet. He needs more time to take it all in.
Further up the hill, the tree fort poses more of a challenge, with a low branch carrying most of the weight. Its girth matches that of a horse, imaginary in lieu of the real thing. The horses come later though, with rides for all of the kids arranged in advance. They saddle up up a roan-colored pony and travel to the end of the lane and back, but the theme of the party has clearly traversed all details. To this day he still claims to have ridden a unicorn.
“Five more minutes, please.”
Cake and candles come next, and poof, another a year is ticked off, etched in icing and wax. After the main event, the kids trek back across the bridge. Their three-foot frames could stretch across the creek if they tried, but the bridge is better, building in just enough distance. We all know naps are the next step.
At noon I collect my son from the creek, wringing out the final moments of the summertime adventure. As we cross the bridge, I know he’s going to ask again to stay, but he’s changed the phrase.
“I want all of the minutes,” he says.
Me too, buddy. Me too.