Summer is the time for some camps and loads of cookouts and the tiniest bit of kids coming of age.
I am a sucker for that time in life when kids go in one end of the tunnel and emerge from the other end, slightly taller, ganglier, and with a glimmer of knowledge and street-sense they hadn't yet possessed. It's almost as if they are straddling the shadow of childhood and the bright sunlight of adulthood -- or vice versa. Those precious three months of summer often provide that time for growth, and it even seems like a single July day at the pool can change my boys. I might drop my 13-year-old off before lunch, and when I arrive to take him home around the dinner hour, it takes a minute to pick him out of his posse. Somehow he has changed -- is he taller? Are his shoulders broader? Has his stride lengthened? He grew up in less than a day.
My youngest son George, and his buddy Jasper and I recently went to the movies to see Earth to Echo. Directed by Dave Green, this film is a throwback to E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, The Goonies and Stand by Me -- '80s represent! It also reminded me of Super 8, which while made in 2011 was set in 1979. Earth to Echo is this year's new sci-fi kids' adventure. In the movie the kids burst free from their safe suburban lives and the watchful eyes of their parents, travel by bike into the desert, and then follow the mysterious maps that suddenly start appearing on their iPhones when the supposed highway construction crews began work on the new freeway to be built in their neighborhood. For those of you with a film repertoire and/or a few years under your belt, does this sound at all familiar?
The film's three preteen pals, Tuck, Munch and Alex, get one final night together before their families move away. In the dark and barren desert landscape, they find an alien. Naming it "Echo," they seek to find its scattered parts in hopes of returning their tiny and tinny friend back to its far-away home. Along the way, bits of a larger puzzle are slowly revealed and the boys are challenged by society, friendship and self. There is a lot of growing up going on in this one night.
I have read the film's mixed reviews. Some friends and family have scoffed at the film. But when a camera shot has a 12-year-old boy look downward, appearing to look into the eyes of the weary alien it has helped to restore and vows to remember it always, I recognize that boy and that time in life as something I am witnessing in my life every day. It is such a tender moment in time to encapsulate and share and witness. I cannot scoff.
When this time in my own child's life seemed so far off, I came across a Billy Collins' poem about just this. On Turning Ten (also available for reading on the poet's Facebook page) is from the perspective of a boy who is beginning to straddle that light and that shadow of childhood and adulthood. It is when the child is on the verge of growing up, of letting go, but also grasping with all his might onto what once was. It is the time of facing the camera and revealing who he is. It's the time when he grows up in just a handful of hours and his mom looks at him with a sad smile.