On Sunday morning, Alex asked to take a walk to the local gas station. That may sound like a strange destination for a 7-year old until you understand that it’s the closest place to buy a Coke or Sunkist. Yes, feel free to judge all you want, but I unfortunately drink Coca-Cola so Alex likes to as well. He’s not allowed to have it too often and honestly even when he does have one, he takes a few sips and then moves on. And I quickly dispose (he he) of the rest of it.
The gas station is a few blocks away, and I love our walks — it’s my chance to get his undivided attention — no iPad, no little brother to narrate our every move. It wasn’t exactly a walk, as Alex likes to ride his little brother’s bike because it has training wheels and two hand brakes, but I’ll take it.
We start out and I begin my usual chants of “put on your brakes,” “you’re going to fast,” “make sure you stop at the corner.” I decide to “workshop” some things I’ve been thinking about (and I really wanted to use the word workshop in a sentence) – things Amy and I have talked about bringing up with Alex.
Me: “Alex, today is your first Fall Ball baseball game, I’m pretty excited.”
Alex: “Me too.”
Me: “You know this year I think we should try to practice in between games. I think we could make it fun to have a catch in our backyard some nights. Just for a few minutes, nothing major.”
Me: “You know, you practice so many things — reading, math, video games….” (I let it hang there, I don’t want to push.)
Alex: “But not soccer, I hate soccer. I’m not playing soccer. Why does Noah play soccer?” (Alex often talks like this, making connections in his head that are hard to follow at first.)
Me: “You don’t have to play soccer, but in our house we try everything once. You tried it, you didn’t like it, and now you don’t have to play.”
Alex: “And I’m not playing basketball, football or tennis either. Why did you yell at me about playing soccer?”
Me: “We didn’t yell. We were trying to convince you to try it because we thought you would like it.”
Alex: “But I told you I didn’t want to play.”
Me: “Yes, but sometimes as parents we think we might know a little something about things.”
Alex: “Did grandpa yell at you about soccer?”
Me: “Can I tell you a secret (and I lean in to whisper)? I tried soccer and you know what, I didn’t like it either. I loved baseball, and football, and basketball, and I gave them all a try at least once. I tried gymnastics and I didn’t like it so I didn’t do it too much. How would you know you loved salmon if you never tried it, or sushi, or baseball… you won’t know if you like something unless you try it at least once.”
At this point, we see a dead cat right by the side walk. Lovely. I quickly make Alex cross to the other side of the street to avoid it and try to convince him it’s a skunk, but “Daddy, that’s a cat and it’s dead.” I have no response.
We get to the gas station and I remind Alex that he has his money from his tooth falling out in his pocket. It’s math time.
He walks in and heads to the refrigerators in the back. Such a hard decision to make. He surprisingly picks a Diet Coke. He heads to the cashier and asks the man how much the Diet Coke costs. He hears $2. I ask him if he has enough, and he looks down at his $5 bill and says yes. The transaction commences and I ask him how much change he will get: 5-2 equals…I show him with my fingers and he says 3. We leave and he decides he really didn’t want a Diet Coke (DUH!). I tell him to go back inside then and get what he wants. He picks out an orange Sunkist (that’s more like it) and we go through the entire process again only with the $3 he has left. When we walk out, I tell him that I will buy his Diet Coke from him (why DIET!!) and hand him $2 and remind him to put it in his pocket so he doesn’t lose it.
We leave again and start to cross the street. We’re working on looking both ways before you enter the intersection. He is hungry of course. I tell him we can go into Starbucks and he can get a snack with his remaining money. He walks up the counter and stares at all of the food for a minute. He starts with one of the “boxes” they sell that has fruit and hard boiled eggs…and then quickly picks up a rice crispy treat. It’s math time again.
He asks the woman how much his treat costs and she says $2.50. He only has $2 left. She smiles as I tell him to think about $2.50 as being 250 cents and $2 as 200 cents and which number is higher. He says 250. I spot him the extra cash to make his purchase. If you’re keeping track at this point, I’m now holding a rice crispy treat, a Diet Coke and a Sunkist since he can’t ride and hold his stuff at the same time.
I tell him it’s hot out and he should get some down time before his game at 1pm, but he responds that he wants to go to the firehouse a few blocks away. I already know at this point something he has yet to figure out. Either I’m dragging that bike home, or an SOS call will be made to mommy for a pick-up. But mommy is at Target with little brother, so in fact we are on our own.
Five minutes of “don’t go too fast, hit your brakes, stop at the corner” and we are across from the firehouse. I should mention that I stopped along the way to throw out my near empty Diet Coke and while my back is turned to him, pour out half of the Sunkist I’m holding for him. I hate wasting that yummy orange but it’s for a good cause.
Across the street from our local firehouse and, good news, they have the engine in the driveway to check out. We also see John, who is setting up little American flags next to the engine. Alex asks me what he is doing with the flags and I tell him he should ask the fireman. We walk over and Alex asks his question.
“We are honoring the 343 firemen who died on 9-11.” At this point I realize that all Alex is going to hear is 343 firemen died, and I’m going to get a lot of questions. I tell John that I’m from NYC and was in DC on 9-11. He tells me that he was on probation at the time and wasn’t allowed to go to NYC. You can sense that it still bothers him that he wasn’t able to support his fellow firemen who he had never met. It’s a brotherhood. I tell John I’m from Staten Island and that many firemen and police live on Staten Island since it’s more affordable than the city, and that Staten Islanders also worked in the Twin Towers. I’m talking but at the same time, my mind is racing through the chronology of events from my own experience. We shake hands, John tells Alex he can come by any time to visit the firehouse and it’s pretty obvious he means it. As we walk away, John continues to put the small flags on his display on the front lawn.
Alex: “Daddy, how did the firemen die?”
Me: “Well, they ran into two buildings that were on fire to help people…they were heroes.”
Alex: “How did the fire start?”
Me: “Two planes crashed into the buildings and the buildings collapsed.”
Alex: “Did the fire start first, or did the planes cause the fire?”
Me: “The planes caused the fire.”
Alex: “Why did they fly into the buildings?” (I’m not touching this one and scaring my kid even more.)
Me: “It was a terrible day. It was really sad.”
Alex: “Were they flying too low?”
Alex: “Did you and mommy cry?”
Me: “Yes, it was really sad, we both cried.”
Alex: “Where was I, was I in mommy’s belly?”
Me: “Well…you were in our hearts. It happened way before you were born.”
Alex: “So the firemen died in the buildings.”
Me: “Yes…but they saved lots of people”
Alex: “Did other people die?”
Me: “Yes, but most got out of the buildings ok.”
Alex: “Were there any police in the buildings?”
Me: “Yes, they were helping people too.”
Alex: “Did any of them die?”
Me: “Yes, some did.”
Alex: “How many, were any of them girls?”
Me: “I’m not sure exactly, but most were ok, and some may have been girls, I’m not sure, I can look it up.”
Alex: “How many firemen and police were there?:
Me: “A lot, probably in the thousands.”
Alex: “And most of them were ok right?”
Alex: “What happened to all of their vehicles?”
Me: “Well, I guess the firemen and police drove them back to the stations.”
Alex: “Were there any helicopters?”
Me: “Yes, they tried to help people too and put out the fire.”
Alex: “What about the Coast Guard?”
Me: “Maybe, I’m not sure.”
Alex: “Can I see a video of it?”
Me: “You’re too young.”
Alex: “But, I want to see it.”
Me: “When you’re older.”
Alex: “What happened to the firemen that died?”
Me: “What do you mean?”
Alex: “Did they come back?”
Me: “No, you don’t come back after you die.”
Alex: “Uhh, where did they go?”
Me: “They have their names up so people can remember them.”
At this point the questions cease…for now…and I can breathe again. I had no expectation that this is where our quick little walk would lead. He’s still trudging along on his bike, but Alex never forgets anything, and this will come up again soon.
“Daddy, it’s so hot out, this bike is so hard.” I tell Alex that if agrees to walk — since we can’t get a pick up — I’ll pull his bike along. He hops off and we continue. I’m sure we talked about something but my mind was elsewhere. To what feels like a lifetime ago.
We are less than a block from our house. “Daddy, I have to go potty so bad.”
“Well, we are almost home…why don’t you run ahead and I’ll follow behind with your bike.”
I watch as he races up the street. And I scream “no, not there, in our house” as he tries to make a quick dash into our neighbor’s shrubs.
I look down at my hand still clutching his Sunkist, remove the cap and down the rest. It’s warm but glorious.
I come into the house, sweaty and tired, and give Amy the universal parental look for “yeah, I’ve got a good one for you.”
But first, we have a game to get ready for.