A retreat to a simpler time really hit the spot

It’s still in there.

Deep below the impressive layers of never-worked-off microwave burritos and a time-hardened soul lie the fragments of what was once a 12-year-old boy without a care in the world. Yes, life can have a way of making us all “grow up” so we can fend off the ravages of reality, and cynicism becomes the shield with which we fend off any potential disappointments or heartbreaks after we’ve danced with those devils enough throughout our respective lifetimes, but deep inside, far past the cockles and icky stuff, sits that little boy.

He still giggles at potty humor. He still wakes up on summer mornings and checks out box scores from the baseball games played the night before. And he still laughs when his friends fall down, though the motivating factor for those momentary struggles with gravity has changed from untied shoelaces to far too many cocktails.

There are too many times I forget that little boy is still in there. Waking up every morning with aching knees and a mind clumsily spinning with everything that has to get done that day muzzles the wonder and innocence that once caused me to embrace that new day with unbridled fervor.

Guys, do you remember those summer mornings as a kid? You know, before summer jobs and chasing girls began to make you look at life in a completely different light? You eagerly got dressed and raced out the door with cereal dripping off your chin, terrified that your friends have already started that day’s adventure without you, but pretty confident that they’d have you jump right in to the fun as soon as you got there.

I’ve been reminded over these first nine months of fatherhood how special it is to not be weighed down by what is expected of you on a day-to-day basis. I watch my daughter scoot about the floor on all fours, not caring so much about what happens next, or what she has to plan out to accomplish everything that’s on her list — she worries about the “right now.”

And that makes me smile.

And, to be honest, it sometimes makes me sad over my own lost innocence. I didn’t use to get grumpy. I certainly caused a lot of grumpy over the years, but I didn’t get it. I didn’t used to stay up at night staring at the ceiling, fretting over what the next day would bring. I would lie awake at night, excited about what adventures would be heading my way the next day. It’s during those times of introspection I sometimes worry that the little boy inside me is gone now, replaced by some old bald guy who watches the news in the morning while he sighs a lot and sucks down coffee just so he can manage that morning ahead.

But then, nights like Tuesday happen.

My wife went out of town to visit with an old friend, and she brought the baby with her, leaving me and the two dogs to fend for ourselves. We had two main objectives for the night: Eat dinner and clean up the kitchen.

We failed at both.

You see, Tuesday was also the release of Madden 16, the NFL video game franchise that has reportedly sold more than 100 million copies over the years, and is personally responsible for more wasted hours out of my life than anything other than my fascination with watching the Food Network, even though I don’t really cook.

I decided that I wasn’t really hungry yet when I walked in the door, so I let the dogs out to handle their business, gave them their subsequent treats for doing so (why don’t I get a treat when I use the facilities?) and put on Madden for a minute, just to see what changes have happened for this newest addition.

This is when the story gets a little hazy.

I got caught up a little bit in the new training mode the game offers, where players have the opportunity to explore the game’s new features by participating in drills and kind of getting in the flow of the game a little bit. I liked the new features a lot, and figured I’d sneak in a quick game, eat some dinner, clean up and hit the sack early, since I had a 4 a.m. wake-up scheduled for Wednesday’s deadline.

That’s what I had planned, at least. But somewhere near the end of that game, 12-year-old Darin seized command.

“Well, big guy,” the little voice bellowed from inside. “That game started a little rocky, but I think we figured some things out by the 4th quarter. One more?”

“Yes, 12-year-old Darin. I think that’s an excellent idea.”

And so we sat, the two of us immersed in a Madden marathon that took adult Darin far past the threshold of responsible adult behavior, and equally that far past his bedtime. And now I’m left speaking in the third person for my troubles.

I’d love to tell you that I’m wearily wiping the sleep out of my eyes on Wednesday morning while I’m writing this, regretting my choices from the night before and making a solemn promise to ignore the controller for a few days and get to bed early. But that’s not the case. Not even a little.

I had fun. I escaped the mental prison that so many of us become incarcerated by as we move through this time we have on this dusty globe, and my Baltimore Ravens are off to a really strong start in their virtual season taking place in my living room.

Oh, and I got to eat cookies for dinner. Never underestimate the soul-cleansing that is cookies for dinner.