From the time my sons were newborn and two, until they were 10 and 12, we lived in a neighborhood where my sons were the only children. Elderly neighbors doted on them. It was not unusual for one of the many 80 year old grandmothers who lived across the street to call me while the children were in the front yard playing.
"Are you getting pictures of this?" they would ask. "Those boys are just adorable. Make sure you get pictures of them making that snowman..." or "playing in the sprinkler," or "riding their tricycles in the driveway..." I never needed to worry about the boys. Several gentle, keen, old eyes were always watching. Their own children and grandchildren lived far away or were simply too old to need oversight. My boys were freckle-faced reminders. They were funnier than afternoon TV, and they were more entertaining than a good book.
When the boys were 10 and 12, we moved to a larger town, into a neighborhood thick with adolescents. It seemed nearly everyone on the street had boys exactly my boys' ages. We needed more eyes to watch them all. Boys were everywhere, running through the unfenced backyards (armed with Nerf guns), wading in the creek (wearing my rain boots), riding their bikes to nowhere and everywhere (helmets dangling from their handlebars instead of on their heads). The boys made it through those years, thanks to an unnamed collective of watchful moms, dads, and neighbors, all eyes on duty.
Today, it is storming outside; and my boys, 14 and 16, have friends over. A dozen teenaged boys are slouched on the old sofas in the downstairs den, taking turns with the Xbox controls. A few are playing cards. Someone's playlist, accompanied by rumbling thunder and drumming raindrops, is the soundtrack of the day. So far, they have eaten their way through several bowls of homemade salsa, two bags of tortilla chips, several dozen Chips Ahoy cookies, a teetering mountain of barbecue sandwiches, and a crockpot full of chili con queso. My trips to the basement, bearing snacks, give me ample opportunity to make sure all is well. I take in the scene as subtly as I can, keeping an eye out for trouble, or danger, or spilled drinks on the carpet.
I think of all the watchful eyes that have looked out for my sons over the years, and I am grateful. I imagine all those eyes, peering from beneath gardening hats, looking through bay windows, watching from back porches and patios, covertly taking it all in as they gather up empty bags of chips and restock the mini fridge with cans of soda. I imagine how the eyes of so many mothers and fathers and teachers and neighbors have tracked my sons' growth and progress, cheered for their accomplishments, monitored their safety, reported their transgressions, overlooked their shortcomings, and silently applauded their good manners.
I remember our neighbors, years ago, watching my boys be boys. "Are you getting pictures of this? Those boys are just adorable." I realize now that their childhoods have played out on a stage much larger than I'd ever imagined, their fan base spanning two neighborhoods, two towns, three schools, and three churches. Their activities, antics, and accidents becoming anecdotes for all the eyes that have watched over them over the years.