My son is obsessed with cars. Anything with wheels is a highlight in his day and the captor of his attention. His reports from preschool reinforce this love of vehicles as they document his “plan” for his work time. 98.8 percent of the time “play with cars/trucks” is listed, while the other 0.2 percent consists of him telling his teacher he will build with blocks or read books; he builds garages for cars and seeks out pages full of fire trucks and police cruisers.
I have become guilty of bribing his sweet little self, to endure the endless errands and commitments that fill our days, with a promise and reward of a $0.99 HOT WHEELS car. It has been a beneficial way to refocus his attention on the end game and a cheap method for me to survive our daily endeavors.
While I was in denial about how bad this method actually was and creating a preschool monster that expected a hot wheels car everyday, the ritual continued. We made our last of several stops for toilet paper and sunflower seed butter and then rolled our red cart into the car aisle. Finn picked a sporty purple racer with an orange spoiler and unproportuanlly large tires. He was extremely decisive with his choice, examining cars to see if he could quickly take a mental inventory of his growing piles of colorful metal, trying his best to find something new. Even at the ripe age of four he could grasp what we as adults are fed over and over, the unsettling notion of not having enough. To him it became more about the hunt, picking something to justify our tradition, (my parental bribery, I know enough to call a spade a spade) but it was also deeper. It was instilling the unsettling heart song, a motivator or destroyer depending on how you use it, that there is always more, always something we don’t have, it’s out there and he wanted it.
However, his wanting wasn’t out of greed or a sense of entitlement, his car choice was about joy. It is the same as how I feel in a bookstore. So many choices, taking moments to read the short excerpts, scanning my ever-failing brainstem trying to remember what I had read that was similar. Had I liked it? Would I want to try something new? Why would I automatically think my child was being greedy, wanting it all? I don’t feel greedy to want more joy. More books, to expand my mind, my imagination, to allow me to grow and learn. It is soul filling for me, comforting, breaths life into my dulled rush of busyness.
I suddenly felt the tears welling up as I watched him. I thought about how my oldest daughter told him she was going to buy him a hot wheels car every year for his birthday and send it to him, no matter how old he was, to his college dorm, to his first apartment, when he becomes a husband, a father, a grandfather, as long as she lived, without fail.
There is something hopeful in the familiar. The treasures of my little boy’s heart were hard and cold with sharp edges, and he handled them with such care and pride. They were never still, moving forward at speeds that didn’t feel safe, leaping off countertops and diving into pillows. They were his story and he was so proud to take the time to make and own his choices, and share them with those who mattered to him.
For several moments I thought about this, wished I were able to handle my sharp and pointy treasures with pride and show them off. To move forward, at a slower speed.
A few days before this moment he had asked, insistently if we could go and buy a new hot wheels car. For no reason other than he wanted one. Immediately I felt a fiery need to stop this pattern. Stop spoiling him. Stop letting it happen because he is my last baby. I felt the harsh demand to teach him to cooperate and behave because it’s the right thing to do, not because it adds a tiny trinket to a collection. I needed to hold my ground and so on the way to this particular ceremonious selection, we had talked about how this was going to be his last hot wheels for awhile. He couldn’t get a new car everyday, he didn’t need them, and he had enough.
I watched his small but mighty fingers page through each make and model, almost as if in slow motion, whispering “NO, NO, HMMM…THIS ONE, NO, THIS ONE” I realized I probably would fail in the parenting department by not sticking to the “last car” promise.
His purple car was paid for and with one minute to spare we pulled into the parent pick up at the Intermediate school. He ran thru the hallway, arms open wide, eager to hug his sister and show her his newest precious metal, and when he opened his chubby knuckled fist, it was empty. Panic arose and we frantically looked everywhere, his audible pain caused all eyes to scan the hallway. We backtracked our steps from the car into the school, asking every passerby if they had see a hot wheels car, it was no where to be found. The search had to cease for us to make it to the bus that would arrive any minute from the Elementary school. We had to leave, without the new purple car. The crying, more like murderous shrieks of angst, began and I could feel myself getting frustrated. It had been (another) long day of running around, I had a headache, we were stressed for time (again) and I was low on patience.
I felt the need to remind him “that’s why mommy asks you to leave your toys in the car, so you don’t lose them.” Which wasn’t really accurate. If I was being honest it was more for me than for him, so that I didn’t have to hear the tantrum over them being lost. We drove from one school to the bus stop and the sobs were serious. I paused in that moment and prayed; asking for compassion and when I turned around and saw Finns glassy eyes and tear streaked cheeks, and watched his chest heaving as he tried to catch his break and explain to me where he thought the car went. I felt it. I felt his sadness and instead of frustration, which so often for me leads to anger, I felt grace.
Now the van was full, all four kids home from school. What waited were homework, dinner, evening activities, baths, dishes, laundry, paperwork and chaos. All I wanted to do was go home and get started, so I could be finished. Instead, we went back to the red bulls eye, my mecca, to make the world right again. All my ducklings waddled in a line through the store to the toy section where we searched for the second purple hot wheels of the day. I replaced the lost car not because I wanted to spoil my child, not because the natural consequence of the lost toy lesson isn’t an important one, but because for the first time, in way too long, I chose grace.