I stopped being irritated when I got up this morning and it was pretty much the perfect day outside. That means topless driving!
A perfect day to drive out to the base with the top down on the car is also a perfect day to sit at a table outside the BX, sipping a soda, watching people go by. It’s also a perfect day for an 8 year old boy to talk his mother into letting him get a hot dog at the outdoor BBQ stand. She was reluctant at first, because she needed to get what she came to the BX for and get going quickly. He proclaimed himself old enough to buy it himself, and he would sit down at a table and eat it while she went inside, and he promised to be good.
Anywhere else, she would have said no. It’s not safe. But being on base gives you a certain sense of security, and good or bad, she sighed deeply, handed him money, and told him to buy it, sit down, eat, and not move.
He got in line and she headed for the BX, glancing back at him with obvious uncertainty. Like, when do I let go? When is it ok to do this? Am I making a colossal mistake?
He stood in line, waited his turn, and paid for his hot dog. Then he turned around and looked at the tables—there was another one vacant—and it seemed to hit him. Mom really is not here. I smiled at him, and he seemed to take it as Everything Will Be Ok. He screwed up his courage, took a few steps, and then asked if he could sit with me.
It’s the Mom factor; it happens once in a while. Kids seem to know Moms will protect them, even if it’s not THEIR mom.
He sat down, unwrapped his hot dog, took a deep breath—and just stared at it. When I looked a little closer, he had tears in his eyes. Thinking he was feeling way in over his head, I asked what was wrong.
“It’s burned. I hafta eat it, but it’s burned.”
No, I assured him as I looked at the charred hunk of pseudo-meat, you don’t have to eat it. We’ll take it back and ask the lady to exchange it for a good hot dog. She won’t be mad because she probably didn’t mean to give him a burned one (momentous for me, because this means Talking To People, something at which I am not very good. Heck, they might bite or kick or something…)
He got his unburned hot dog, and a free small drink to boot; we turned around to go back to the table, and I spotted, right at the corner to the BX entrance, his mother’s head as she peeked around the corner. Whatever errand that had been so pressing was clearly not more important than making sure her little boy was all right, and not more important than letting him take a baby step towards even a fleeting moment of independence.
She mouthed “thank you;” I nodded and mouthed “go ahead,” and she disappeared into the BX. Less than 4 minutes later she was coming out, just as her little boy was swallowing the last bite of his hot dog.
He smiled brightly and told her, “That was a really good hot dog!”
“You’re getting too big,” she sighed.
He shook his head. “I had to get help.”
“Even grown ups have to ask for help sometimes,” she assured him.
I agreed. And as he shoved his drink cup into the trash can, he thanked me for helping him and sitting with him.
A few minutes after that I was back in my car, driving with the top down, wind whipping my hair, thinking that hell yes, it’s damned fine day.