I spent last weekend at a cabin at a lake with a trio of 11-year-old boys. It was everything you’re imagining: wild, energetic, boisterous, rowdy and splashtastic. Somewhere along the way I made a discovery – other than the fact that three 11-year-olds can generate more damp towels than a Bounty commercial. I have decided being 11, during the summer, at the lake, with a couple of friends by your side is one of the best places a person could ever hope to be.
Eleven is the perfect age because you are old enough to fish off the dock without your mom having to be right there supervising to make sure you don’t spill the worms or stick yourself with a hook – although she understands both are a distinct possibility.
You can jump off the dock and touch bottom without having your head go under the water and you no longer have to wear your life vest 24/7 like you did when you were a little kid.
You are old enough to catch things – frogs, baseballs, crawfish, frisbees and poison ivy – and know, with certainty, when you make a wish on the first star of the night your dreams really will come true. Star light, star bright…
During a weekend at the cabin, mealtimes and bedtimes are all but forgotten. It’s a time to stay out late, sleep in and jump in. Eating is often done on the run out in the sun because there are so many other fun things to fit into the day. On the hottest days, popsicles can constitute lunch.
At 11, you’ve mastered the art of roasting marshmallows over a fire, but maintain the ability to appreciate the white gooey balls straight out of the bag. This supreme flexibility is something most adults can’t even imagine, much less attain.
You chase lots of things – stars, waves, your shadow, each other and the sunshine – but not girls. Not yet.
Girls can be useful in certain situations. For instance, they’re good for a game of wiffle ball or a late night game of ghost in the graveyard, but they’re still just girls. One’s hardly distinguishable from the other – unless she’s really good at wiffle ball.
When you are 11, any critter is worth watching; fireflies are magic; your dad still knows more than any other person on earth and the defining line between grown-ups and childhood has not yet become hazy.
As a mom, I love the lake in part because I love watching them. It’s a time when combing hair is optional; swim trunks, sunscreen and an occasional trip to the candy store are not.
They discard shoes, clothes, towels and bikes with unconscious abandon as they move seamlessly from swimming to squirt gun fights to croquet and then back into the lake again.
It is an age on the cusp of change – teetering toward middle school, growth spurts and adolescence. Although they’ve achieved double digits in years on earth, the innocence of childhood persists and the world remains – for another year or so – a mysterious and magical place.
Perhaps my son summed up the experience best when he said, "It was great weekend. I got scars, bruises and a tan." It doesn’t get much better than that.
It’s too bad it has to end. But, we all know you can’t be 11 for more than just one summer and you can’t make a weekend at the lake last forever, although it’s a nice thought.
Star light, star bright, I wish I may, I wish I might…
(Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, playwright and author of "The Do-It-Yourselfer’s Guide to Self-Syndication" You can read more columns at the Slices of Life page on Facebook.)