My son loves trucks. Large trucks, the bigger the better. School buses. Fire engines. Big rigs. Snow plows. Delivery trucks and dump trucks. Telephone line repair trucks. Forklifts and bulldozers. And especially garbage trucks.
He doesn’t have many, but he keeps them all on shelves in the closet in his bedroom. He asks me to take one or two out each night, so he can play with them before he falls asleep.
My relationship with trucks used to be one of peaceful coexistence: I don’t bother them as long as they don’t bother me.
I don’t remember ever playing with any trucks when I was a kid. My brothers played with them all the time. Clearly, I must have repressed some bad memories. (I do, however, remember owning a Ken doll, Barbie’s boyfriend.)
In the past few months I had already shown considerable fake-it skills. I blinded him (and everyone else) with science. “Papa, what’s the fastest train in the world?” “Well, that would be the magnetic-levitation Shanghai Maglev, with a maximum operational speed of 430 kilometers per hour!”
How do I fare with aircraft? Glad you asked. Thanks to my prodigious web search skills, I know my planes. I even know how to distinguish planes by ear: “Why, that’s a Bombardier Q400 Turbo Prop, of course!” Thanks to Siri (“What’s flying overhead?”) I have all the answers: airline and flight number, altitude, angle, slant distance and type of aircraft.
Helicopters? Toy prototypes were invented before Leonardo da Vinci, thank you very much. My son and I have watched hours of footage of rescue, transportation and firefighting helicopters and even some Apaches (until he told me that it was “inappropriate” for him to watch an Apache attack).
I knew I had to get involved with trucks. I had started to read up on the topic, because if there’s something I’m good at, it’s studying. Last weekend he asked me to join him in truck play. That was a curve ball, truck play. That wasn’t something I had prepared for or could prepare for. “Just be cool,” I told myself, “just play along and all will be fine.”
In a classic bait-and-switch, he informed me that the trucks would be buses. I knew this about buses: A bus is something you take when you don’t have a car. And we have a car.
With a “I’m the 30, you’re the No. 7, Papa,” we began. I made him go first. He moved his bus along the road he had marked on the wooden floor with Scotch tape. I moved mine too, but a little too fast, apparently. “You just kind of speeded, Papa,” he remarked. “Sped,” I corrected him instinctively. He wouldn’t have any of it. “It’s dangerous.” I slowed down.
He stopped his bus at the first imaginary bus stop; I stopped right behind him. He picked up some Lego passengers. So did I. “Actually, Papa, people go in at the front and leave at the back.” Is that so? I wouldn’t know. I decided not to question his knowledge; after all, he had taken a bus a few times with a babysitter. He made me repeat this particular episode a few times, until I got it completely right.
He stopped at the next corner to pick up some more passengers. I pulled up right behind him. “Papa, the number 7 doesn’t stop there on Sundays.” How did he know? Was he bluffing? “This is not about you,” I had to tell myself, “it’s about him.”
Despite my good intentions, I was quickly losing interest in this pretend play. I ignored a stop sign. I forgot to make the bus kneel for a passenger in a wheelchair. And, most damningly, I ran over a dinosaur.
My son’s last comment summed it all up: “You’re not very good at playing with trucks.”
No sh*t, Sherlock.