When my son was a toddler, he used to love riding in his car seat because it gave him a stable platform from which to pitch things at the back of my head. His giggly joy when he managed to nail me with a soggy chunk of Pop Tart was so full of delight I couldn’t find it in my heart to get mad at him, though I hated it when my boss would interrupt a meeting to ask me if I realized I had pastry crumbs in my hair.
When he wasn’t filling the air with projectiles he would be singing out landmarks as we passed them. “Bus Bar!” he always cried when we drove by the outbuilding where the county kept the school busses corralled-the “bus barn.” In the summer the busses baked under the sun like large beasts napping in a field, but during the school year the busses were sometimes out on their rounds, inspiring a conversation like this:
“No bus Daddy?”
“No, no busses today.”
“Okay, fine. Yes. Yes, there was a bus.”
I’m not sure when it was decided that it was no longer necessary for him to be strapped into a child safety seat whenever we went for a car ride, though I am fairly certain it was before he got his driver’s license. And I don’t remember the last time he thought the lack of busses at the bus barn was a topic worthy of debate.
What I do remember is the last time he held my hand. We were downtown on a crisp fall afternoon, navigating on foot through the impatient rush-hour traffic on our way to the bookstore. This is a kid who grew up in the mountains and who had always regarded automobiles as solitary hunters; confronted with so many of them on the prowl at once, their tires barking angrily at stoplights, he became very nervous. He might have been aged eight, then-certainly old enough that my instinctive, parental reach for him whenever we crossed a street was always shaken off with a shrug of annoyance. But the very real danger posed by all that hurtling metal caused him to seek reassurance, and I felt his hand curl up into mine as we stepped off the curb.
It was the size of it that struck me, how much his fist had grown since the last time I’d held it. That, in turn, led me to reflect on the fact that we just didn’t hold hands any more.
Safely across the street, he released me, and we left the episode un-remarked. For me, though, it was a rare milestone in the otherwise shockingly swift transformation of my little boy into man.
Parents are not often afforded the opportunity to specifically remember and treasure the last time our kids perform some childlike act. I can’t recall the final bedtime story I read my children, or the last time any of them needed to be carried anywhere. I didn’t notice when it was no longer necessary for me to kiss every one of their dolls goodnight when I tucked my daughters in, or even the last time I tucked them in. There’s no warning that a treasured ritual is having its curtain call; if there were, perhaps we’d do something special to record the occasion, in memory if not on paper or video tape, so that maybe we could relive that precious moment.
Nowadays whenever I pass the bus barn and the yellow behemoths are out on their routes, I note it for the record. “No busses,” I murmur, even if I am by myself. If my son is in the car with me he gives me a bland look, registering my observation but clearly feeling the matter doesn’t call for further conversation. He doesn’t remember.
But I do remember, just as clearly as I can remember the wet smack of a partially chewed pop tart catching me behind the right ear, and the last time he held my hand, crossing a busy street on an autumn afternoon.
Bruce Cameron is the author of A Dog’s Purpose, the sequel for which will be published as A Dog’s Journey on May 6, 2012. You can visit Bruce’s web site for more great articles.
Cameron Column Website at http://www.wbrucecameron.com/
Copyright 2012 W. Bruce Cameron – used with permission