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Almost every day I take a three year old to the park. I tie his shoes, apply sunscreen, and strap him into his stroller. We amble through his gated neighborhood on the sidewalk and he excitedly repeats “bye-bye home” as we walk. When we get to the exit gate for the sidewalk, I open the door, push his stroller through, and turn it around to face the larger gates for cars.
Sometimes we’ll stand there for five minutes just watching the gates open and close with cars and trucks arriving and departing. We usually go to the park around five o’clock each day, the perfect time to watch business men coming home and stay-at-home moms taking their daughters to cheer practice.
At his tender age, the sweet little boy adores watching the gates open and close. He looks up at me and signs “open,” and I tell him we have to wait for a car to open the gate. He giggles wildly at the gates swinging open silently as cars roll through and begins to sign “close.” We wait while the gate remains open a few extra seconds and swings closed with a bounce. He giggles and squeals and says “muh-muh-muh” to tell me he wants more of the gates.
So each day before we continue on to the park and before we head back to the house, we stand outside the gates and watch them open and close. We’ve watched them so often, I become excited when I see a car soaring down the hill with its blinker flashing to turn into the neighborhood. I point to the gate and tell him to look closely because it’s about to open, and he erupts with joy to see the heavy gates open.
But yesterday was different. We watched two cars drive through the gate before a silver Lexus SUV stopped as it headed out the exit.
“You know you can just reach through the bars and open that door,” a woman called out pointing to the gate on the sidewalk. The gate has a code on the outside and a sign to prevent intruders, but the bars are so wide-set, anyone can reach through and open the door. I don’t even know the code.
In her words, it struck me.
We’ve easily watched and admired a hundred cars drive through in the past couple weeks, but no one has ever stopped. No one counted it odd that a young woman and a baby stood outside these gates each day. Sometimes people would smile at me as they passed us, but no one ever asked us why or if we needed help.
I realized that standing there pointing at the gates and smiling each day meant we weren’t normal.
“Oh, we just like watching the gates open and close,” I explained smiling.
She laughed and looked at the little boy in the stroller. “I miss that age!”
She drove away and I decided it was time to continue on toward the park.
I miss that age. Her words echoed in my head as we walked. At his age, the boy is fascinated and curious. He smiles and laughs when he gets to wear an Elmo shirt. He claps and kicks his legs when I put a bowl of baby food in front of him—or better yet, Goldfish. To him, the world is full of possibilities and wonder and beauty.
He loves the normal things. Getting dresses, eating, walking—he loves them. These are simple necessities or inconveniences during our day, but to him they are cause for laughter and joy.
I push his stroller up and down the hills to the park while cars fly past us, separated by a mere three feet of dehydrated, Texas grass. I wonder if the cars notice us. They fly by so quickly heading deeper into the suburbs on the way home to their own families.
I’m afraid of them.
Not the cars themselves, but being the person in the car heading to the next destination in a rush. They look straight ahead, honk at bicyclists and other cars who don’t move quickly enough when the light turns green, and slam on their brakes when the car in front of them suddenly decides to turn, interrupting their rhythm. They hurry. They do not notice the new spring flowers blooming each day or the gradual increasing shade as leaves return to the trees. They continue on to their destination.
This sweet little boy loves watching the gates as much as he loves sliding down the tunnel slide or watching me blow bubbles or eating green bean, pear and pea baby food, which we can all agree sounds awful. To some degree, I think he’s lucky to have special needs, because I know he won’t ever lose that childlike sense of wonder as he ages.
I want to be more like him.