Those two days a week are the best part of the summer. Maybe part of the best summer. With all the fear and tension in the air, I was trying to forge positive time for us every day. We gravitated to the nearby hike and bike trails, a school forest, and neighborhood sidewalks and streets. Not every place has ready access to such resources. Milwaukee County has a remarkable system of trails and parks to go to. On rain days and hot afternoons we had a large shaded yard for blowing bubbles, digging in a sandbox, and a tiny garden and a some flowers, a driveway to chalk and tool around on wheels.
Stroller packed with water, snacks, sunscreen, bug repellent, camera, chalk, we head off into the neighborhood. The sights and sounds along the way provide hours of amusement. A block away the city was replacing sidewalks. Watching the activity and the coming and going of big equipment is sometimes good for 45 minutes to an hour. The work people put on a show; a concrete truck blew the air horn.
The kid loves trucks. A few blocks away a bridge crosses the interstate highway. Peter puts his feet on the bridge railing and holds onto the fence with me backing him up. Trucks of all kinds roll right out from under our feet while on the other side the trucks rush at us: flatbeds, gas trucks, dump trucks, cement mixers, vans, and everything else. Sometimes the drivers below spot us and blow their horns.
A small school forest is on the other side of the freeway bridge. Most days it’s only Peter and I. There are trees, and flowers, streams to throw stones at, mud holes, butterflies, insects of many sorts, and wildlife. One day while exploring the school forest Peter walked along a dry gully and right up to a fawn. The fawn finally stood up and moved away when it felt Peter had gotten too close. We’d been close to deer a few times but the fawn in the school forest was closest ever.
But trucks are what inspire Peter. He most often imagines himself as a tow truck. He’ll pretend tow all over before really hooking onto his stroller, or toy car, or his grandpa. The stroller went over in a towing mishap one day and that was the end of snacks. Peter will alternate between the tow truck, airplane, train, bus, but tow truck is the default. Fire engines, ambulances, police cars, and mail trucks also work into the rotation.
One day we happened to be sitting on the curb by a mailbox while watching the sidewalks being installed. Up rolls the mail truck to deliver mail and the nice mail lady fusses at him and tells us how her kids loved to watch construction. Peter got all shy. Even when the mail lady got a bag of dumdum candy Peter sat still. We teach kids to be wary of strangers and honestly, I wasn’t so sure about this. None the less, if it’s not okay to trust the mail lady, well… Peter watches for her all the time now.
Our experiences strolling around the trails and sidewalks do vary. One day on the return leg of an outing I spot a girl in the grass beside the street. I asked if she was okay because it looked so odd. “I’m fine, she replied. “I’m just out walking my turtle.”
Peter and I rolled over to meet the turtle. Sure enough, she had a painted turtle in the grass which she picked up and brought over to us. The kid was probably 12 or 13 and the turtle in her hand was craning its neck and paddling its legs. Peter sat back in the stroller shoving his hands under his bottom wide-eyed. The turtle’s name is Brick, found by “Auntie” and turned over to the girl two years back. We got the whole story.
These are harsh times. Our nation, right down to each of us, are feeling a level of distress many of us have never had before. Visions of our futures are cloudy, dark. The ability to trust is strained. I’ll not make any forecasts because I don’t know. What I do know is that what I have is humbling. Maybe in some small way I’ve contributed something positive. I’m trying to do the best I can and hopefully, in this small bubble Peter and I have, we’ve both done our parts to push aside the darkness.