Tuesday, July 9, 2013

At the Drive-In

I've written twice about "The Other Times"- times when parenting is so hard, so rough, so brutal that you forget why you signed up for this for a few hectic moments.  But if there are "other times", that means that there are just plain "times". Times when parenting is so magical, so memorable that you believe for a few brief moments that you could do this 10 more times.  July 3rd was a time.

The morning didn't just start off on the wrong foot, it started off on the wrong feet...and hands...and elbows.  Jack had no interest in getting up and after a bout of "not nice hands", Trevor was at his wits' end.  Life with a 2.5 year old is like working on a bomb squad.  This little ticking time bomb clicks and Trevor and I just look at each other trying to figure out how to defuse him.  "Cut the green wire!" I'll shout.  "No, it's the red wire!" Trevor replies.  And as we try to figure out what wire to cut, the bomb sits there ticking until its inevitable explosion or diffusion by sheer luck on our part.  The thing of it is, for me, cutting a green wire works, for Trevor, cutting the red wire works.  Jack is not a one size fits all kind of kid.  Wednesday started out a minefield kind of day.

A few days before, Trevor had the idea to try and take Jack to his first movie at the drive-in nearby.  Could it be?  Could we tempt fate and have a magical family night under the stars with this little bomb?  We seldom dare to dream of those moments these days, but deciding it was all worth the risk, we decided to go.

We both picked Jack up from preschool that afternoon and saw his little curly head from behind running laps around the playground, his little blue running shoes kicking up dust like a cartoon character.  When he saw us, he ran over to the gate shouting "Mama!  Daddy!  Brother!"  We scooped him up and hugged him and told him of the amazing night we had planned for him.  I've learned not to over-sell him on our plans.  Once upon a time I took him to Bounce Land promising him the time of his life, promising him it was the Disney World of Kalamazoo.  And what did he do?  Play with a train table and avoid the bouncy stuff completely (until Trevor dragged him up a massive slide which he actually loved.  Joke was on Trevor when Jack begged to go back up that massive slide 4 more times).

Trevor packed us up for a night at the drive-in- blankets, pillows, bug spray, lawn chairs, diaper bag etc, etc. He remembered it all.  With Aunt Bean and her friend Sierra (She-Ra per Jack) in the back, we set off toward the drive-in.  We got into town and decided to go through a drive-through for some dinner.  And we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  We waited so long that we were afraid the elderly man in line in front of us passed away in his car.  The car ahead of him moved forward and he stayed put, un-moving with the car in park.  "Oh no!  He didn't even get his last meal because this line is moving so freaking slowly!" I said, seconds before he put the car in gear and moved up.  Phew.

Burgers and chicken nuggets were passed to the way back (I have a car with a "way back" now, I'm officially a parent) and we set off toward the Capri.  As we got closer we saw hundreds of brake lights dotting the side of the road.  We followed the line of cars down a side street and around the bend and found ourselves behind the most massive line of cars I've ever seen.  Trevor looked positively crestfallen and I was now regretting not getting any food at the restaurant.  Were we going to make it?  Would we find ourselves at the front of the line only to be told it was sold out?  I looked in the back of the car and saw the pillows and blankets and bags and the hopeful little faces of our passengers.  "Trevor," I said, "I did not drive all the way to Coldwater to watch people eat Burger King!  We're going to make it!"  With each car that inched its way through the gate, the mood got lighter in the car.  When we finally got through the ticket booth, it was like entering the gates of heaven itself.  We quickly found a spot which Trevor backed into so we could use that "way back" to its full advantage.

Trevor went into full dad mode, setting up lawn chairs, creating a cozy nest of pillows and blankets and passing out snacks he had wisely purchased at a gas station.  He even got us all popcorn because seeing movies without popcorn is like eating bacon without extra helpings of bacon.  As the movie began (Despicable Me 2), Jack climbed into Sierra/She-Ra's lap and Trevor and I held our breath waiting for that bomb to go off.  And it didn't.  This little guy was enjoying himself.  He didn't try to escape or run screaming into traffic, he just sat there eating popcorn under a Spider-Man blanket.  Thank you baby Jesus.  Meanwhile I sat in the way back with Will nursing him in the little nest his dad had built for us.  Jack gazed skyward and whispered "stars" to the group and Trevor scooped him up to point out constellations.  Little Dipper, North Star, our little boy who shares his middle name with a star looked up with all of the kind of awe and wonder that you hope never goes away.

As the credits rolled on the first movie, we thought for sure Jack would turn into a pumpkin, but that guy just kept going as Monsters University began.  Eventually I put a sleeping Will on Trevor's lap and we moved a sleepy Jack into the crook of his arm while the 3 of them climbed into the way back nest.  The sight of them back there swelled my heart up to the point I thought it would burst.  Jack finally fell asleep around 1am and at the end of the movie, Trevor put both boys in their car seats and we made our way home.  "This was the greatest parenting night ever." Trevor said and I agreed.  "The good times are starting to outnumber the tough times." I said.  And as we drove down the highway under a blanket of stars we relished that fact.

Someday, I hope Jack remembers how good it feels to have his dad's strong arms carry him up to bed, gently lay him down and whisper "good night, Jack."  I'll always remind him of it when he forgets.

The Terrible Twos can beat you down and wear you out.  Cutting the green wire doesn't always work and sometimes the bomb just goes off.  I worry sometimes that I'm losing my boy in all of the noise.  He's getting so big, but still so small.  He knows so much and so little.  But with each day that passes, he learns to control his impulses a bit more, he masters the elusive vocabulary that allows him to ask for what he needs and he becomes a bit more boy and a little less baby.

Getting into that drive-in that night was a huge metaphor for life with 2 very young kids.  You want so badly to have a nice dinner together without tantrums and tears.  You want so badly to go out to a museum or aquarium without incident.  You want so badly to do these things as a family and most of the time it just never quite works out.  Well that night, it did.  We got through that incredibly long line, we got through the evening without tears or tantrums.  Everything just worked out and it was grand.

The next day was the 4th of July and again, Trevor and I had grand illusions of watching the fireworks from the pontoon boat out at his grandparent's house. We imagined the look in Jack's eyes as he watched them explode in the sky, a rainbow of light and fire and magic!  Jack watched exactly 2 fireworks before shouting "OFF BOAT!  OFF BOAT!" and rattling the door.  

"Well Trevor, apparently we're allowed one magical family night per week and we used ours at the drive-in."

There will be many more fireworks and pontoon rides and 4th of July celebrations, but there will only ever be one of those nights at the drive-in.  

And as long as I live I'll never forget it.

At the drive-in 7/3/13

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