When I glanced in the rearview mirror, my heart jumped. Emmeline’s eyes were wide, too wide. And my mind raced with reasons why a normally cheerful, chatty toddler was struck dumb. She simply stared straight ahead, unmoving, eyes wide.
It was raining too hard and there was too much traffic to do anything else but reach back and tap her knee. For a second, I thought she was choking, and I quickly tried to recall what I had thrown in the backseat to keep her occupied so I could drive across town to pick up some flooring samples.
“Hey kid, are you OK?”
I turned around just in time to see a smile play across her lips, and I groaned. I knew exactly what was coming. I could feel it. She wasn’t choking or sick or sleepy. She had heard it all, every last word, and she was simply processing, preparing to regurgitate every utterance I had bestowed upon the automobiling world in the past half block of sodden, traffic-choked bumper-to-bumper chaos.
“Sheet!” she screamed, clapping her hands. “Sheet sheet sheet!”
She then honked an imaginary horn on her lap.
“Beep! Beep! Sheet!”
I shouldn’t be allowed to drive with kids. It should be on my license much the same way it is for people required to wear prescription glasses: “Not allowed to drive with anyone who has taken up the ability to mimic without the benefit proper situational timing.” Instead, my license simply says “donor.”
I’m calling the DMV.
We rarely use the car during the week and despite each time pledging to stay calm and collected before we pull out of the garage, I invariably treat any car time as if we’re just two sailors enjoying a little shore leave. At home, on the bus, walking around, I can usually cover any slips with near-curses. Damn becomes “D … arn!” Shit becomes “Shhh … oot!” For the longest time I thought my grandma’s favorite curse word was “ffffff …. iddlesticks!” It didn’t dawn on me until this year that she was probably aiming for something a little more expressive but had the wherewithal to take in her surroundings first. Would I had her skills when I’m in the car. Only the car. I don’t know why that is.
A friend was telling me she acts the same way in her car.
“It’s like we forget,” she said, “that there are little people back there … listening.”
Listening to everything.
When Dana came home the other day and heard Emme’s newest grasp at vocabulary, she did a double take.
“What did she just say?” Dana asked
“Really? Because it sounded an awful lot like–”
“No, it was shoot. She’s been saying shoot all day, and fudge, and darn and you silly mother farming ace in the hole! I think she’s gifted. You know, when it comes to the maternal agri-gaming nomenclature. Normal kid stuff.”
When Dana said I couldn’t use the car for day trips anymore, Emme could be heard in the background, yelling something about cement infrastructure used to hold back water, and all I could think was: Now you get the timing right.