Between my house and the neighbor’s house there is a retaining wall made of 6X6 wood beams. It is only four inches off the ground on my side, but three feet on their side. The children use it as a balance beam, shuffling their tiny feet and going “OH! OOP! OH!” with every step regardless of whether they actually move or not. A usual course along this beam takes anywhere from 3 minutes to 8 hours, depending on how intensely competitive they are feeling, how many birds fly by and must thusly be pointed at, and how many breaks they must take to use the potty.

Travels along the beam are usually rather routine. Once they reach the end, they hop around and cheer, then go back and start at the beginning again. Even falls are usually no big problem. Half the time, they land on the high side and just pop back up, even when they land on the far side it is only a small drop onto grass. A minute of crying from the shock before they realize they are fine, and then they want to try again.

Sometimes, a fall is bad though. Like the time Anthony’s feet slipped off and he landed ribs-first on the far edge, then jerked his body over and slammed lips-first on the near edge before rolling ass-over-head onto the grass. Seeing a smear of blood on the wood where his face had hit put me in rescue mode. I scooped him up and began comforting him amidst cries and jerks. I thought he was frightened, so I held him tighter. Then I realized the crying and fighting was because he wanted to be put down.

He wasn’t upset because he was hurt. He was upset because I had gotten in the way of him finishing his beam.

Split lip and black-and-blue torso, he ran back to the start and climbed on the beam. Then he looked at me and motioned impatiently for me to call “1, 2, 3 walk!”