Jacob and his caregivers spent the weekend resting and recovering.
Simon and Angelique had agreed that Jacob needed some exercise. The child had been uncharacteristically disobedient, and that landed him in time out quite a few times that morning. His caregivers sensed his restlessness and attributed it to his limited physical activity over the past few days.
Spending all day cooped up inside just wouldn't do for a rambunctious two-year old boy. He needed unstructured time to be gleeful, free and lively. He needed the opportunity to dive face first into a sandbox, collect colorful, fallen leaves from the ground and pretend to be king of the world with a broken branch as his scepter. He needed his helicopter parents to let him be the little boy that he was, one that could take a fall without breaking into a million tiny pieces.
From his seat on a wooden bench, little eyes explored the colorful, enticing recreational equipment scattered across the enclosed park. Angelique admonished his fidgeting as she struggled to apply sunscreen to the visibly eager boy. When he finally stilled in her grasp, she rubbed a thin layer of the cream onto his face, tightened his laces and helped him off the bench.
After his caregivers gave him permission, Jacob sprinted away to the nearby climber that had caught his eye. Simon and Angelique followed behind him, taking pictures of him with their phones. With a few boosts from Simon, Jacob climbed up the rock wall and cheered once he made it to the top. His caregivers gave him high-fives, and Simon helped the boy down, eager to move him away from the ledge.
Angelique had excused her husband's minor interferences on the playground. A helping hand every now and then and the occasional anxious cautioning were permissible, but when Simon diverted Jacob away from the monkey bars, Angelique stepped in and unceremoniously dragged Simon away to a nearby bench.
"What's wrong?" Simon asked when they sat down.
"You're letting your anxiety make you hover," Angelique lectured, handing him a pair of shades. "Relax. He will be fine, and we can enjoy the sun."
Simon sighed. He knew that his wife was right but understanding that didn't make it any easier to watch Jacob run around on his daring and significant risk-taking ventures. Cringing, Simon paid close attention as Jacob flew slid face first into the large plastic tube. He didn't release the breath he was holding until the boy landed safely in the sand.
Eventually, Simon did manage to relax enough to pull out his cell phone and browse social media, looking up to check on Jacob only occasionally. With speedy thumbs, he congratulated Daniel on his latest promotion, complimented Diane on the amazing Halloween costume that she had crafted for Noah and checked up on his mother-in-law, Sophia.
"Honey?" Angelique asked. "What's the youngest age that you would feel comfortable with babysitting Jacob?"
"I'm honestly not sure," Simon answered, looking over at her a tad confused. "Are you planning a date night?"
"No, but our anniversary is coming up," Angelique reminded him, scrolling through babysitter listings. "I don't want to find one at the last minute."
"Oh," Simon replied. He hadn't realized how quickly the date was approaching. Since Jacob became a part of their household, the days were passing by faster than ever before. But he did want to help with looking for a babysitter and suggested, "What about the college student, Kimberly?"
"I don't know if she does babysitting," his wife replied, nodding her head. "I'll ask."
"Hopefully she does," Simon began, remembering his interactions with the young adult. "I think she would get along well with Jacob."
Angelique smiled. "I think she would too."
After about an hour of shenanigans on the playground, Jacob came running over to where the couple was sitting.
"Did you see?" Jacob shouted, out of breath. "I was so fast!"
"Yes, I did," Angelique replied, grabbing a wet wipe and lifting him onto the bench. "You were so brave going on the big slide all by yourself."
Simon smiled encouragingly although he hadn't actually seen it, and he was secretly glad that he missed it. Watching Jacob go down that tall slide would have stressed him out so much that his entire head might have turned gray in an instant. The next time they ventured to the park, he might very well make Angelique the designated driver and sip a cup of wine. He knew he'd never actually do it, but it was a nice fantasy.
Angelique wiped down Jacob's sweaty face and dirty hands and handed him a bottle of water and a pouch of cinnamon applesauce. Jacob sat with his caregivers for a few moments, and Angelique took a few pictures of them on the bench. Looking over his wife's shoulder, Simon took a sneak peak at the photo album that she was working on, and it already looked pretty impressive.
Finished with his snack, Jacob slid off the bench, grabbed Simon's hand and pulled on it until the older man stood up. "Where are we going?" Simon asked, wondering what got into the little boy.
But Jacob didn't answer, pulling Simon along until they stood in front of the swings, and Simon finally figured out what the tyke wanted. "Do you want me to push you on the swing?" he asked, stooping down to Jacob's height.
"Yes," Jacob answered, jumping up and down.
"Okay, but we have to go to the other swings," Simon explained, pointing at the bucket swings. "You're too little to sit on the big ones all by yourself."
"Okay," Jacob replied before sprinting over to the other swing set.
Simon helped the little boy sit comfortably in the small, black bucket. "Ready?"
The little boy nodded, excited to swing through the air. He'd envied a few other kids whose parents were pushing them, and now it was finally his turn. He stilled for a second when Simon released him through the air, taking in the new experience, but after the second push, he squealed, "Wee!"
Simon pushed Jacob a few times, carefully gaging his strength. Smiling wider with every one of Jacob's giggles, he started to really enjoy himself. There was a certain delight in contributing to the little boy's glee, and Simon couldn't get enough of it. He pushed him so many times that he'd lost count, but he eventually tired, giving the child one last half-hearted push.
"Higher, Daddy!" Jacob screamed, swinging his arms and kicking his legs. "Higher!"
Simon froze, unable to believe what he just heard. He turned, and his eyes found Angelique's face. Her raised eyebrows, wide eyes and open mouth conveyed exactly what they both felt perfectly, and once the shock faded, Simon's heart expanded through a series of emotions and the dreams that accompanied them.
He imagined the elation that would light up in his chest as his son leapt into his arms when he arrived at his daycare center at the end of a workday. In time, amazement would overwhelm him as he watched the boy grow up into a fine young man, and the already present conviction to protect his son only strengthened with this new title.
Simon was a daddy, and in that moment, the trio's relationship transformed. Simon and Angelique had moved from despised caregivers to adored parents through their little boy's first acknowledgement.
But Simon and Angelique weren't the only ones surprised by the little boy's admission. Jacob's adult consciousness had been observing his younger self's playground exploration. He couldn't deny how happy he seemed to be, and that freedom sparked emotions that had laid dormant in his heart for so long. Even he, the discarded version of Jacob, trusted Simon and Angelique to protect him from the dangers of the world, to support him through his second childhood and to raise him into a better version of himself, and those feelings exuded into the very essence of the soul that connected him to his younger self. Maybe, it was those very feelings that shaped his younger self's attitude towards Simon and Angelique.
Still, it was strange to hear the words leave his own mouth, but the truth remained indisputable. Simon would always be the only father figure he'd ever known, the only man capable of imparting the compassion, praise and adoration that he'd craved both knowingly and unknowingly his whole life. Although initially opposed to his regression, Jacob honestly looked forward to the optimistic future that his younger self had, growing up with the loving father that he never had. His adult consciousness sat on a patch of grass and watched the happy family, smiling along with them.
When the trio finally finished with the swings, loving parents joined Jacob on the merry go round. Angelique tightly held Jacob in the center of the metal disc, and Simon gripped one of the outer poles. The middle-aged man ran as fast as he could-swearing to return to the gym more regularly- before jumping on to spin wickedly fast along with his wife and child.
The trio, shouted, screamed and hollered to their heart's content until they all finally tired and retired to the car, prepped for a long nap back at the lakeside home.