The Rock at Van Aken District

All hail this queen. (The Rock at Van Aken District, 2019)

All hail this queen. (The Rock at Van Aken District, 2019)

What Are [Kids] to Rocks and Mountains?

Standing almost five-feet at its peak, the rock at Van Aken District has fast become an icon of the modern Shaker Heights childhood. Nary a sunny day — nay, hour — passes that it's not decorated with giggling kids or the driven ones battling to be crowned king or queen of the mountain.

It's tucked into the corner of the VAD quad, between Mitchell's Homemade and what will soon be Stump Plants, surrounded by seating for the crowd of parents and onlookers eager to keep watch — or simply catch some of the ice cream-fueled energy.

I often (half) joke that the rock is the district's childcare facility. It's a reliable source for outdoor fitness, imagination and not letting your kid stray too far.

One day, I imagine Shaker kids will remember the rock as a place they played their faces off, hung out with friends, spilled ice cream on their favorite shirts, whispered secrets, spied new crushes, lost shoes, fell hard, got up again and laughed until they nearly barfed.

Be prepared, though, as an adult. The rock (it might actually be a boulder) probably won't knock your socks off.

In fact, when I first saw the quad, which wasn't yet adorned with the high-endurance hammocks and orange Adirondack chairs, I was underwhelmed. It was an open space with turf, walkways and big rocks. No life. Yet.

And that was how I learned I've officially crossed over to the imagination-free land of being a boring adult.

What I saw were spare boulders someone couldn't find someplace else to plop down. But what my kids see is opportunities to create stories of their own grandeur and unbridled adventure. With or without friends by their sides. And it never seems to lose its luster.

I like to think we’re at the beginning of a dreamy era that, when they threaten to replace the rock in 50 years with something more 2069 (like a robot rock), will erupt in the kind of picket lines and protest signs that come with removal of anything that anchors us to a certain place in time.

We don't often recognize the beginnings of these things. But there's something about that wholly unremarkable rock that pokes me to be present, now, to see the memories unfolding and feel the magic, now, instead of when that robot rock takes over.