Who has three car seats at any one time? The minivan drivers with macaroni necklaces hanging from their rearview mirrors do. The parking lot is full of them when I get to preschool to drop off my grandson, Jackson. I see young, springy mothers with ponytails and capri pants. I am a grandmother, yet I can text as quickly as a pimply teen and own an iPod.
Jackson hugs me at the door as if he has just joined the Merchant Marines while I assure him that I will be back to pick him up at 11. I want to take a mental picture of him waving as I pull away because in a heartbeat he will be off with his friends, challenging the universe to see what it's got.
He is tall like his father with a stringy body and sharp intellect. I know the preschool teacher will ask him to color a picture of a dog or a kitten. He'll make a pathetic attempt but he is really more interested in knowing why the classroom turtle needs a filtration system. This will go on for years and he'll never learn to color properly. Their standards won't be his. There will be many parent-teacher conferences insisting that he conform. Some 25-year-old, childless second-grade teacher will shake her head as if it's an intolerable situation. She prefers your basic 7-year-old glue-eaters because at least they are predictable.
I think of all this as I decide to do a few errands before I pick up my little sailor. I plot to take him to the doughnut shop afterward to pick out a sprinkly treat. He'll be shocked that these joints are legal. He has been taught that any food shaped in a circle will cause death: doughnuts, pizza, hamburgers and the like. Then there are suckers, cookies and cupcakes. The parents receive the "safe zone" brochure as they leave the hospital. They put this next to their recycling brochure and their hand sanitizer pamphlet.
By 11, I am back at school. There is a line of macaroni vans, but I park off to the side. Like Disney World, I must be in the Betty White lot. At first I am met with squinty eyes, but as soon as Jackson yells "Grandma!" and runs into my arms, they decide to forgo the fingerprinting.
"How was your voyage?" I ask. He tells me that the "snack mother" brought baby carrots and organic apple juice. This sounds more like the diet of woodland creatures, but I just nod. He shows me what he has colored: four green lines of Crayola in the middle of a baby chick. "Great!" I say. "Do you like to color?" I ask. "Nah," he says. "I like the turtle."
Most of the moms are headed to their afternoon yoga classes, but Jackson and I pull out of the safe zone and into the doughnut shop. I am not surprised that no one else follows us there. They get a GPS alert that they are passing into the danger zone and they step on the gas. We pick a booth farthest away from the old guys in the corner. There are cups and newspapers all over their table. It is a Norman Rockwell image of every doughnut shop in the United States.
Jackson's chin is level with the table. He picks a doughnut with orange sprinkles. I remove the lid to my coffee and instantly a puff of steam comes out. "Why is the coffee so hot?" he asks. "It's better that way," I say. "Just like ice cream is better when it's cold." He seems to consider my answer. "How's the doughnut?" I ask. "Good," he says, but his answer is muffled because his cheeks are packed. I make him finish his milk before we go.
When we get back in the van and are on our way home, he asks, "Grandma, can we get a doughnut every week?" Without skipping a beat I say, "We can get a doughnut every week of your life." This puts a smile on his face. I have a strange lump in my throat because you only get so many doughnuts with your grandson.
I drop him at home and he runs into his safe zone, a small boy with endless possibilities. A minute later I can see him through the picture window waving something frantically. He runs back out to the car holding the chick. "Grandma, this is for you!" "Thanks," I say. "It's wonderful."
Debbie Liuzzo is a paramedic in North Olmsted, Ohio.