A good weekend overall, but it was not without its alarm bells.
Friday evening we went to the local amusement park — in the summer, Friday night is quarter night, meaning we can give the kids a full-fledged amusement park experience for less than ten bucks. Take that, Disney! We’ve been going there for years. At first we were sharply limited by what rides we could actually use: There’s a train that makes a couple of half-mile circuits around the park, and there’s a huge, authentic, beautiful carousel, and there is a kids’ boat ride — eight boats doing endless laps in a small pool. Back when Sonny was four, that was pretty much it. Those few rides again and again for two hours, until exhaustion set in.
So I was delighted when, last summer, Sonny asked to go on the roller coaster. The roller coaster! A kids’ coaster, to be sure — it’s called the Little Dipper. No loop-de-loops, no 90-degree plummets that bring your lunch back up your throat. But the Little Dipper is still way, way more exciting and violent than, say, the boat ride. I thought for sure Sonny would change his mind the moment he sat in the car… or, worse, as the coaster crested the first hill, when we were locked in and it was too late to do anything about it. But he loved it, and we must have rode the coaster a dozen times that day and a hundred times that summer.
Friday, he didn’t want to ride the roller coaster. He said he did, but as soon as we gave the guy the tickets, he changed his mind and started crying. Similarly, he didn’t want to go on the huge, three-story slippy slide, which was another delight he discovered last year — a scary walk up a metal staircase, and halfway up Sonny always had a distinct change of heart, but I was right behind him, pressing him forward, and it was always worth it for the squeals of delight he made as we descended on one of those burlap mats. Friday, he wouldn’t take even the first step up the staircase. Again, instant tears.
I knew something was wrong when he wouldn’t go on the boat ride. This is the first amusement park ride he ever experienced, and if anything should be at the warm, cozy center of his memory, it is this. We have pictures of him in one of those boats, beaming a mile-wide smile. Visiting the boats is a central part of any trip to the park.
This weekend, thought, I put him in the boat and the crying started yet again. What could I do? There was a fair to decent chance that once the ride actually started, he’d change his tune and begin shouting with joy. But I could hardly leave him like this. What was I planning to say to the teenage girl at the controls? “Oh, he’s fine. He cries all the time. Just start the ride.” No. I took him out of there and asked him what he wanted to do.
“Go to the car,” he said.
So that’s what we did. I found Peanut and the wife and told them we were heading back to the parking lot. We’d only been there an hour. We didn’t try ending the evening early — Peanut would have declared that The Most Grotesque Injustice In The History of the World. I could sit with Sonny for half an hour in the car, and Peanut could enjoy a few more rides.
Once in the car, Sonny’s mood improved dramatically. I let him sit in the front seat, which is damn near unprecedented. I also let him — I hope you are sitting down — I also let him PLAY WITH THE WINDOW. Up and down! Up and down! When the window was down, he could wave out the window at passersby. “Hello! Hi!” Families said hello back to him, some smiling, some clearly put off. When the window was up… why, it could be brought right back down again!
He also played with the sunroof, and the mirror behind the sun visor, and the magic little compartment beside the map light that’s designed to hold your sunglasses. Why did we drive 45 minutes to an amusement park when I could have made Sonny’s week without even leaving the driveway?
The next day, Saturday, we went to the beach. The beaches in my small Connecticut town are criminally underused — we have more than once arrived there at the peak of summer to find the parking lot practically empty. So we were taken somewhat aback on Saturday to find the beach packed wall to wall with families. Who were all these people? Where had they come from? How had they all discovered the beach on the same day? Furthermore, we had arrived at the very peak of high tide, and the beach had been shrunk to a narrow strip of sand. We shouldered our way through the throngs and found a place to lay out our blanket.
It was good for a while. The kids went down to the water (it was about fifteen steps away) and splashed. Sonny, bless him, understood without being told that today was not a good day for throwing rocks into the ocean, his favorite beach activity. Some of the other kids invited him to help big some kind of sand-and-driftwood apparatus. That’s always an interesting moment. Do they understand that Sonny doesn’t quite get what they are saying? What will their reaction be when they see that he is drooling? This time, thankfully, the kids were content to speak slower and give Sonny a job pouring sand onto a pile. Sonny did that for a few minutes, and then walked away the project. None of the other kids seemed too distraught about that. (Peanut stayed and helped build the whatever-it-was for the entire rest of our visit.)
Sonny came back to me and said the words I knew he was going to say: “Wait in the car?”
“No, Sonny. We’re enjoying the beach! Let’s take a walk.”
“I don’t want to take a walk. I want to wait in the car.”
We took a walk. (I’m the boss here.) We took a walk to the pier that juts out into the ocean, where the fishermen hang out. This is Sonny’s favorite place on the beach, or is normally. Today he just wasn’t into it. Maybe the beach was too crowded. More likely he was hearing the siren song of the power windows in the Acura. And the sunroof! And the sunglasses holder!
Normally the fishermen on the pier are know-nothing hobbyists, people who plonk their line straight down into the water, apparently hoping to knock a fish unconscious with the sinker. This day we had a more serious lineup — people who knew how to cast their line out fifty yards are more with a practiced flip of the arm. I knew these guys were a step up on the professionalism scale because one of them had actually caught a fish. A sea robin, which to my mind is a useless and inedible junk fish, but at least the guy had caught something. Sonny was pretty excited to see that, although he beat a hasty retreat when another fellow brought up a crab trap filled with crabs. He opened the trap and all the crabs made a break for it. (RUN FOR IT! WE HAVE SIX LEGS AND HE ONLY HAS TWO!) That was more exposure to wild animals than Sonny was prepared for, and he was halfway back down the pier before I even noticed, and that was the end of our walk up the beach.
So we walked back and Sonny picked up right where he left off: “Wait in the car now?”
I sighed. “Sonny, go play in the water! Dig in the sand with your truck! The beach is your FAVORITE PLACE ON EARTH.”
“I want to wait in the car!”
By the end of the weekend I was a little distraught that, suddenly, the one thing Sonny wants to do out of doors is play with the car’s power windows. But over a night’s sleep I’m seeing the bright side: We now have a powerful new reward to get Sonny to do what we want. Tomorrow, in fact, Sonny (unbeknownst to him) has a dentist appointment. I think I know how to get him to behave there.