like backdraft, but with a room full of comfy chairs instead

Today a rather cold, dismal rain sneezes on us and my children and I miss a deadline because I invite them to participate in cleaning the living room – while I relax with a book. Some days it’s just not in me to come home to an overly untidy house. I can always rely on the wee ones to do the chores when I’ve got a good carrot in front of them (as opposed to the lash behind them). Today’s carrot: a field trip to the Fire Department and a book event at the Library.

Those who watch my family interactions know that I am more patient with my son Nels than my daughter Sophie. I chalk this up to wisdom regarding my secondborn and folly on the part of my first. Try as I might I find myself expecting far more out of Sophie, her lot in life to sport the unfortunate trifecta of firstborn / girl child / less dominant personality, my son seeming younger, more of a known quantity, easier to feel relaxed about raising. The last few days my son has severely tested even my reserves of patience for him, however. If I wasn’t his primary ally (in contrast to Ralph and my mother, who tend to scold and shame) I’d be doing far worse in applying compassionate care.

Today’s field trip was a pleasant one, despite a long slog in the rain to get there. Since I’d spent a few days out of the classroom setting I was struck by the extremely well-intentioned series of commands, reprimands, and seemingly unnecessary restraints vested in the manners requirements of our small group of preschoolers (“Say thank you, Johnny!” “What do you say, Johnny” – at one point my son duly reciting with a smile, “thankyouthankyouthankyou” like the most winsome parrot). The nine or so kids are allowed to look but basically herded in a don’t-touch-hardly-anything walkthrough that seems to me not so much cruel as baffling. I sat back and watched because, really, everyone was having a good time. Internally I found myself laughing at the thought that these massive, extremely rugged fire trucks would be treated like china glass – to hear the words of the accompanying adults. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been struck by this if I hadn’t been on far more hands-on and lengthy fire station tours. The fireman leading us through was an attractive, doe-eyed gentleman obliging the many questions of the children (half of them flat statements, like my son’s brilliant “Um. Hospital bed.” contribution) and a few of the parents (volunteering a younger man to slide down the pole for our edification).

My son and daughter had a spry attention span and asked many questions. Besides my son’s flat statement above he also found it necessary to revisit the concept of the paramedic’s oxygen – “The air that blows, it’s to help you breathe and put energy in your body.” At this I quietly wiped away tears as I knew his two comments had everything to do with what he watched his grandfather go through late August (as likely did, now that I think about it, Sophie’s answer to the query, “What does an ambulance do?” “It carries dead people.” – prompting a jolly laugh from the group).

Some of the events I’ve always loved about the life of children – especially when I was one – were trips like these, being taken out into the community to see how bells whistled and levers clanked. I truly feel blessed that my life allows not only for me to send my own children off on these adventures, or bring them to them, but a re-appreciation for the simple wonders of the daily existence.