A Speeding Car Could Land in our Picnic

It’s a snack. It’s a picnic. “It’s a snack-nic!” shouts my son. He chooses the menu: popcorn tossed with raisins and diced apple. My daughter picked the sunniest patch of our front lawn. We wave to neighbors biking home, push-mowing the grass, carrying recycling to the curb. My children’s hair is warm from the sun. They smell like bread baking. The wool blanket is scratchy under bare legs. We’re halfway through the popcorn. “Yum!” says one love. “Yum!” says the other love, drinking from her Kleen Kanteen, knowing even as a toddler the blessing of fresh, clean water. The extradordinary ordinary.

It’s not the first speeder down our urban street. In the past few years, neighbors have tried the “Slow Down for Kids” signs,  a plastic yellow kid-shape holding an orange warning flag, begging drivers to consider the Children at Play.

What was it? A Jetta? a Civic? Something else weighing four thousand pounds? It started like thunder down the street, then raced closer, the raspy rumbling growing into a metallic monster, streak of flames, gleaming teeth and burning yellow eyes. And then gone.

The kids munched away.

I couldn’t see the speeder’s face, someone else’s love, all grown up. And I’m sure he didn’t see mine, the lines on my foreheads, the bags under my eyes. I’m sure he didn’t see my loves. My hearts in water sandals. Their tiny toes. My life, my breath, my everything – that I have brought–unthinkingly, how could it have been otherwise–into a world of peril.

When my son was born he had some breathing trouble. He lay on me for seven minutes and they swooped him away to the NICU for, I don’t remember, forever. When we finally brought him home, I was breastfeeding him, the hormones boiled and toiled within me and with a terrible, awful, can’t look back, wave of terror and oh my god what have I done, I knew: I was fucked. Because this is the headline news I finally knew: parents love their children. Yes, really! I am not making this up! And that this love was nothing like how I had loved our dog (the supposed practice child), my relatives, or even my husband. This love was a burning ocean. It knocked me over, I could barely stand. And yet there were miles to go.

My love weighed six pounds, thirteen ounces. I carried him for months, and never doubted he was safe. I had confidence in my ability to do every single thing on the checklist of healthy pregnancy. The trouble was not realizing that one day he would have to come out. That’s what I realized that first night together, holding my heart in my arms. He lived on the outside now. And I knew what was out here.

“Put him back,” I moaned. “Put him back put him back put him back.” Addressing something, anything- with the ability to do this.  But as much as I pleaded with the universe, he remained there in my arms. There was nothing left to do. I would keep him safe.

What did I think would happen that afternoon? That the speeder would lose control, richochet off a stop sign and land upside down in our front yard? That the force of the speed itself would suck us up and whoosh us away? Ridiculous. Still, a sidewalk and an adolescent maple tree in the parking strip are not enough cushion to comfort me. Twenty mile an hour speed zones are not enough to comfort me. Car seats and bike helmets and cabinet locks and socket plugs are not enough. Vitamins and organic milk and an extra kiss at bedtime are not. Yes, let’s say prayers at night. What do you say to God? You say, dear God keep speeding cars the fuck away from my children, that’s what you say.

My loves finish the popcorn, picking out the last chunks of apple. “That was good,” says one love. “More!” shouts the other love. We do have more. More popcorn, more raisins, more apple. We have more bowls, napkins, more clean drinkable water. Amazing. We have more afternoons for snack-nics. More neighbors to chat with, birds to whistle to, more grassy, warm ground to lie back and sink into, letting go.

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