How old would you be, if you didn’t know how old you actually were? I’m guessing I would be 32. Old enough to start having second thoughts first, but young enough to still believe that age will bring wisdom. Although, the older I get, the less I trust that familiar doctrine— instead, I feel more in line with Mark Twain when he said of himself, “I was young and foolish then; now I am old and foolisher.”

A recent family gathering proved this thought. The children had tired of food and conversation and had gone off in search of adventure. Before long a scream shattered the chattering, and one of the little kids came bursting into the room with tears streaming down his face. I jumped up and headed towards the kids. I have two boys — with a seven-year age gap — which often means that the youngest one plays (a lot) more rough than he should. I’d already had to intervene once earlier, when he had made a cousin cry. I had picked him up and sternly asked what happened.

“I hit him,” he answered matter of factly, jutting his chin out.

“You can’t hit!” I admonished.

“But he hit me, so I hit him back — harder!” he said defiantly.

“It’s never OK to hit anyone.” I recognized my mom’s tone of voice coming out of my mouth, and wondered how many times she had wanted to laugh while scolding my cousins and I at family functions. He apologized to his cousin, with about as much sincerity as I remember feeling when our parents had made us say sorry and hug.

With this scenario fresh in my mind, I hurried down the stairs, hoping my Little hadn’t hurt someone else. The child was still screaming incoherently, leaving me no clue what had happened, or what I was going to find. Whatever I was expecting was not what I found — seven kids standing around a partially-deflated air mattress in my aunt’s sewing room.

I didn’t even know what to make of the situation, so I used my best “scolding adult” voice.

“What happened?” I demanded.

“It was an accident!” the three older cousins chorused.

“What was an accident?” I tried to keep my eyebrows furrowed, attempting to mimic the expressions of my own aunts and uncles from my childhood years.

The kids started chattering at once.

“He fell on his side...”

“We may have gotten a bit rough...”

“The little ones bounce better...”

About this time, my cousin arrived at my side to check on her kids and see what had caused all the commotion.

We still weren’t quite sure what had happened, so to explain, the kids demonstrated. One of the littlest cousins laid down on one end of the air mattress, while the rest of them lined up along the other side. “One-a, Two-a, Cow-a-bunga!” they shouted as they jumped on their end, shooting the 3-year-old into the air — to land (mostly) on a thin blanket they had put down to cushion the fall onto the cement floor.

No amount of channeling grouchy great-aunts had any effect on the nearly instant burst of laughter from both my cousin and myself. And instead of scolding, we scurried off to grab cameras!

“The little ones bounce better!” one of the older cousins repeated, as they flipped child after child into the air and onto the floor. Sometimes coming down harder onto the concrete than others. After a particularly hard splat, the Little’s expression was somewhere between pride and tears. My cousin reached down and scooped him up, “Good job for being so tough!” She patted his head and set him back down in line for the mattress.

Watching those little bodies twist in the air, while my cousin snapped pictures and I clapped, I discovered two things: As you get older and wiser, you’re not actually much wiser (although we did move the air compressor farther away from the mattress), and behind the pretend scowl lines, you’re not any older either — for which I am thankful.

Maybe by next year, we can come up with a partially-deflated air mattress big enough to catapult the adults — and we’ll leave the scolding up to the truly old and wise.

Brianna Walker occasionally writes about the Farmer’s Fate for the Blue Mountain Eagle.

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