Driving home at night. It’s not completely dark because the five-year-old is playing with a flashlight. Every 30 seconds, I see police lights in the rear-view mirror. I wonder what I did wrong, until I realize it’s just that damned flashlight. But he really wants to see it, and promises he won’t shine it upwards anymore.
It’s loud in the car. The one-year-old is crying his most desperate cry – the one he reserves only for emergencies like wanting breakfast, not wanting his diaper changed, wanting the toy his brother has, or not wanting to ride in the car right now. It was a struggle getting him into the car seat. He stiffened himself, ramrod straight, because they can’t fit you into your car seat if you don’t bend in the middle. He has strong abs for a pipsqueak. Mommy is sitting in back, trying to console him. He won’t be consoled.
It’s raining. Not a steady, windshield-cleansing rain. It’s that fine drizzle that clings to the greasy film of life outside the glass. Those name-brand wipers that cost double, but were worth the price of protecting the family, excel at smearing nature’s spittle and assorted bug innards across my view. Despite his promises, Flashlight Boy finds the perfect angle to play a beam of light off the rear view mirror. Retinas spin cartwheels.
This blind and deaf moment was an entire day in the making. It’s the cost of hitting every free event in town in a single day.
It started at the Home Depot kids workshop, building a kit plane. They give the kids aprons and access to lots of paint. The person next to a kid with a paint brush needs the apron more, but parents are left to fend off wayward strokes on their own.
There’s no time to let the paint dry before the firefighters’ exhibition. Nobody with a big, red truck that shoots water needs a bounce house to attract children, but firemen often add this overkill anyway. They set a simulated room on fire. The one-year-old wants to help them put it out. He wants this more than popcorn or chips or fruit punch, which means he wants it a lot. He kicks and screams when Daddy holds him back from his heroic intentions.
Then, it’s off to the inter-squad game of the university hockey team. Inter-squad exhibitions always run too long, even without hungry kids. Even the Zamboni loses its mystique after the second period.
Dinner isn’t free, but it’s pretty cheap in the university cafeterias. At one of the remodeled halls, it’s also one of the better meals in town. It’s like Disney World, for pennies on the dollar. Food revives the kids just enough to keep them from sleeping peacefully on the ride home.
And that’s the problem. I drive by memory until my pupils stabilize. Mommy confiscates the flashlight and we make it home safe. Four people trudge into the house, all of them cranky. It must have been a fun day.