Life As We Know It
When we arrived at the store's parking lot during lunch hour (I was already kicking myself), it was packed with impatient people trying to accomplish their errands in an hour or less. I took a deep breath and muttered to myself as I crammed Erik into the shopping cart. I threaded his rapidly expanding feet (now a size 10) through the holes designed for chubby baby appendages, and, miraculously, he settled down in the seat without upending the thing like a monster truck attacking a row of sedans. I exhaled a sigh of relief. Usually, if I run into anybody I know, Erik gets wide, scrutinous stares, as people perceive him as gigantic now, huge for his age. I suspect that at least half of this stems from the fact that he is crammed in shopping carts such as this and appears freakishly large, like an grotesquely swollen, middle-aged man dressed in an adult-sized diaper and sitting in a crib the size of a Buick at a carnival side show. The truth is, he is of average height on the typical growth chart. Also contributing to the effect is the fact he has inherited my long, clumsy legs, making him appear even taller. There is also not a lot of extra fat on my kid, despite the fact it seems he consumes his weight in peanut butter each and every day.
Erik is a big fan of the Sesame Street DVDs I purchased to keep him entertained while I work. He adores the characters I grew up knowing as a kid. His Mr. Hooper impression is dead on. As we rolled into the store today, he was channeling the deceased storekeeper, yelling, "David! David! I can't find my glasses! David! I can't see a thing without my glasses!" For a moment it seemed there was an irritated, elderly gentleman in my cart threatening to spurt phrases in Yiddish.
Like many children, Erik has yet to hone his skills of appropriately engaging strangers socially. However, his attempts seem different than those of most kids his age. While many children are shy, Erik shakes hands like a politician. He greets even the infantile ("Hello there, baby!") He smiles widely. And he sometimes shouts to get a passerby's attention. He has learned that his window of opportunity sometimes closes quickly as his shopping cart rolls by, so he shouts whatever comes to mind at that very moment to attract attention. This usually emerges in the form of engine sounds, "Yee haw!" or animal noises, especially the ones cats and dogs make. It makes for awkward moments sometimes, but I mostly flash a smile and move on, as I am used to this phenonmenon now. Four years ago, my formerly shy self would have been horrified.
Today was slightly different. He craned his neck to glimpse a couple of boys his age walking quietly beside their mother and yelled, "Hello girls!" The mother looked more than annoyed, and I kept rolling along, wincing slightly as we passed out of sight. From there, he transformed into a hot dog vendor, something he also likely picked up from Sesame Street, screaming, "Hot dogs! Get your hot dogs herrrrre! How 'bout a little saurkraut? Catsup?" The New York accent was perfect. It was as if I were listening to a recording of someone entirely different. He sounded like a 35-year-old man working a job in Yankee Stadium.
We spent an hour in the store filling our cart to the brim with groceries. Erik spotted things on the shelves of interest, like chocolate ("Oh, I looooooove chocolate!"), and giggling with delight at the photos of fluffy kittens on cans of cat food ("They're looking at me! I loooooooove little kittens!").
It was a real adventure, just as I had promised him.
After we had annoyed everyone behind us in the checkout line, as the man checking made a big, slow show of things especially for Erik's benefit, we headed home. To the west, the clouds formed gnarled, pearlescent columns lit by the sun that were so incredibly massive and bright you could hardly look at them. I asked Erik if he thought they were as beautiful as I did, and he said yes. To the east, the sky was as black as night. The clouds seemed to churn slowly, as if something was working behind them, and I told Erik the thunder would begin soon.
When we got home, I unpacked our things and made myself comfortable in the kitchen, my favorite place to be in the middle of the day. Erik devoured two waffles with strawberries and half of a peanut butter sandwich. The sky above our house began to emit deep rumbles, and I took a glass of wine, a candle, and Erik's toy semi truck out to the front porch. I stretched out on the chaise lounge while Erik rode his truck back and forth, laughing out loud he was so happy. A bolt of lightning snaked down from the sky over the desert, and Erik stopped in his tracks as the sound of thunder that followed seemed to spread behind the clouds above us. Slightly alarmed, he came to me quickly and put his hand on my knee. I put my palm over it and assured him that we were perfectly safe. I asked him if he thought the lightning was beautiful, and he said that it was. I heard the sound of hail pellets beginning to slam into the ground, and soon the yard was being peppered by dense balls of ice. I looked back at the open kitchen window and saw Gracie-Cat's round, furry face materialize, seeming to float behind the screen in the darkness. Her eyes were dilated to maximum diameter, infused with primitive fright. A thunder clap sounded, and she disappeared.
When the cold wind picked up and chilled the air, I collected our things and took Erik's hand to lead him back inside. He cried in protest, but I assured him we would do it all over again tomorrow.