We walked across the graveled parking lot toward the car after a long benefit dinner for troop 214, my son Conner tagging along behind, his brown shirt untucked and hanging down all disheveled. "Dad," he said, his wheezy athsmatic voice like soft music. "Do you think I could camp out in the woods by our house?"
I, as I usually do, took this cue to spin sarcastic humor.
"Sure, son," I said to the cool air. "You could camp out in the woods with a tent and take a video camera like Bear Gryls. If you get thirsty you could drink your own pee."
Conner laughed. He was eleven and that kind of humor was mostly the extent of what his funny-bone would resonate with.
"So I could, like, use the bathroom in the woods and live out there for a week?"
"Yeah, but we better wait until it gets warmer. It's still January, son."
He didn't answer. I spent the drive home talking to my wife, not listening to the plan-hatching conversation he was having with his younger sister, my oldest daughter, in the back seat of the Suzuki XL-7. Little did I realize the itinerary he was discussing with Kaylee, all on the dreamed-up permission he had recieved from his father.
Later that day, I was relaxing on the couch, reading my Kindle. They had gone outside to play as the weather was moderate, and I didn't think anything of it until my middle daughter wandered in from outside to inform me that Conner had "pooped in the woods". We live on a 5 acre plot that is heavily wooded and there are ravines and over the course of 13 years I have sighted mountain lions at least 3 times.
I jumped up, went outside, and began calling them. No answer. I called again. No answer. I screamed out their names, and finally I heard the echo of laughter and my children calling back to me. I called them to the house, my wife mock-furious at me for "telling them they could do that."
When they finally ran out of the woods, backpacks slung on their backs, makeshift walking sticks in their hands, they were covered with mud and grime from head to foot. The interrogation began.
"Is it true that you pooped in the woods?" I asked Conner.
"But you said.."
I repeated my question.
"Yes," he replied, whining.
"Did you bury it and did you do that in front of your sister?"
"Yes, I buried it and no, gross."
"He didn't," chattered Kaylee, her red hair woven with small leaves and twigs. She looked aboriginal. "I walked away over the hill."
"Get inside and clean up," I said, trying with everything I had to keep from smiling. Must...maintain...father...face...
I watched them pile into the house, remove their muddy shoes just inside the door, and listened as my wife told them about the mountain lions, the ravine, the disgusting bathroom habits of cave-people and other such guilt.
I waited until the door closed behind them to laugh.