Family / Kids

Training Wheels

No child labor laws were broken in the making of this photo.

No child labor laws were broken in the making of this photo.

I’m talking on the phone with a woman who’s interested in buying our 2003 Jetta, a.k.a. Greta, when K-Bird starts pestering me. First the “Mom, mom, mom.” Then the tapping on the back of my hand with his finger. Then the full-body nudging from behind. I nudge back and glare at him in my “seriously, not now, this is a business call” way. I’m only vaguely aware, as I write down the woman’s name and number, that K-Bird has left the room.

My mind being preoccupied with the interested buyer’s details, and deciding whether or not I should get in touch with someone from Nationwide United Auto Transport (to have the car shipped), I don’t pay much heed to what happened.

When I finish the call, I go looking for him, a search that ends with me stonewalled by a locked bathroom door, behind which I can hear K-Bird crying.

Uh oh.

Our designated family drama king, K-Bird’s known to lose his stuff over seemingly minor infractions, especially when he’s tired or hungry (right now it’s the second one), and double especially when there’s a mirror nearby, in which he can practice making the saddest of his sad faces, which only makes him sadder.

So. Goal one: get the kid away from the mirror.

“Buddy,” I drum my fingers on the door, “what’s going on?”

The door opens a couple inches. I hear sniffling.

“Did I hurt your feelings?”

“No, it’s just that,” he huffs a couple breaths, “I don’t want to sell Greta.” He breaks down sobbing.

Oh geez.

I reach my hand through the inches-wide opening, find K-Bird’s hand, and give his palm a squeeze, “Why don’t you come out and talk about it.”

Goal attained. He follows me to a bench in our hallway, where he climbs onto my lap and buries his head in my neck.

Because I believe in letting kids cry, I let him cry, until I notice the drama factor ratcheting up from level “I’m genuinely sad because my mom has been personifying our car for my whole entire life and now it feels like we’re selling a family member” to level “I’m about to fall off an emotional cliff because my blood sugar’s low and what I really need is food but I won’t eat because,” as he informs me, wailing into my ear, “I’m going to feel like this forever.”

“You know, buddy,” I venture, “I don’t think you’re gonna to feel like this forever. Feelings change.”

“Not this one,” he insists, burrowing his head further into my neck.

“You feel really sad right now,” I affirm. Then I reach back into family lore to make a point, “Remember how sad you felt when Gracie died?”

“Yeah,” he nods, rubbing his wet face against my chest.

“Well, you don’t feel that sad about her anymore, do you?”

“No,” he agrees, sniffing. Then he arches his neck back and howls at the ceiling, “But Gracie was just a dog. Greta’s a car.”

Oh my.

Eventually I help K-Bird navigate away from his River of Sadness and into the kitchen for a blood-sugar-replenishing snack. He forgets all about the car until right before bedtime, when he walks into my office and sees on my laptop the pictures of Greta I posted on Facebook. Then we’re back at it, K-Bird swirling toward the drama drain, me trying to fish him out.

At no point do I utter the phrases “It’s just a freakin’ car” or “Get over it” or “Don’t you like our new car better?” Because I know how K-Bird feels. He’s a sentimentalist, like me. Greta’s not just a car; she’s a piece of family history. If it were up to him, he’d have kept it round forever, changing its parts Ship of Theseus style, waiting till he’s old enough to take his driving test in it, looking for test cancellations instead of going the normal way because he’d be so eager, and take it with him to college. Now though, that was all gone, and he was crying.

Am I over-indulging K-Bird, letting him cry like this? I mean, if he’s falling apart over the privilege of swapping an old car for a new one, how will he ever learn to handle a real crisis, a real struggle, real loss? Would I need to get in touch with an Auto Insurance Fullerton company (or somewhere nearby), just in case? These questions lingered long after I put the sentimentalist to bed.

I like to think of these small-moments-that-feel-big as training wheels for the more serious stuff life will throw his way. I like to think I’m helping K-Bird learn how to honor his feelings without becoming completely overwhelmed by them. But who knows?

A few days later, my cousin Mike and his wife Christiane decide to buy the car. I’ve been awaiting this moment with some trepidation, wondering how K-Bird will handle watching someone else drive Greta away. So far, all indications are good: K-Bird helped me wash Greta one last time. He is especially quite fond of the tires for some reason. Maybe because they are comparatively new. Random car tip: always get new tires Lynchburg before selling your car! Anyway, K-Bird watched through the window as Mike installed his son Sawyer’s safety seat in what was formerly K-Bird’s side of the backseat. He joined me on the driveway as Christiane buckled Sawyer in. But as I’m giving Mike and Christiane last-minute pointers on the car, K-Bird disappears.

Seconds later, I hear our automatic garage door rolling opening behind me. I turn around to see K-Bird leaning against our new car, a.k.a. Sandy the Subaru (yes, I am officially a lesbian cliché, and no, I have not learned my lesson about personifying cars), his hand protectively placed against her bumper. “This is my real car,” he announces with pride.

I catch Mike’s eye and whisper, “This is what coping looks like.”

I say my goodbyes, and as Christiane starts up Greta, I walk over to K-Bird, crouch down next to him. “How ya feeling?”

“Sad,” he says, staring at Greta’s taillights.

“You know the best way to say goodbye to an old car?” I ask.

He looks me in the eye, curious.

“Wash it,” I say. “You know the best way to say hello to a new car?”

He raises his eyebrows. “Wash it?”

“Yep,” I nod.

“Really? We can wash Sandy?” He smiles big.

“Sure,” I say.

He clenches his fist and throws it in the air. “Yesssss!” Then K-Bird looks back at Greta and sighs. He doesn’t take his eyes off her until she’s driven out of sight.

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  1. Not since Herbie the Love Bug have a I felt so touched by an automobile. Congratulations on your new family member!!

  2. “But Gracie was just a dog. Greta’s a car.” Ha.

    Yes, I think that we may be officially raising the same child. Mine just fished his old, broken, torn, disgusting lunch kit out of the trash because he doesn’t want to part with it.

    • I remove old items from our house under cover of darkness.

      • This captures my five year old perfectly. All of it. The drama, the sentimentality, the conversations we have over “are we preparing him for life?” and especially, ESPECIALLY, removing things by cover of night.

        • If our older son is any indication, they evolve. They really do. And then we miss their tenderheartedness, forgetting how much time and energy it took us to talk them down after they fell apart listening to “I Will Survive.” (“It’s just so sad,” he explained, “how they loved each other and now they don’t.”)

  3. OMG I so so loved this, Cheryl. Really and truly, both laughed out loud and then teared up. At the freakin’ car!

    “I catch Mike’s eye and whisper, “This is what coping looks like.”

    This is what great writing looks like.

  4. Thank you, Polly! I was so proud of K-Bird in that moment, and so encouraged to remember that they usually find their way, these kids of ours.

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