I am backing slowly down the steep incline of our driveway. It is 8:10 and I am a little later than usual…but just in time for the elementary kids to swarm towards the school, bumper height obstacles from my perch at the peak of our driveway. The car is beeping in protest but a careful check confirms it is just our poorly engineered concrete that is causing concern.
I pause at the point of full reverse feeling thankful that no children died at my hand this morning and allow my eyes to move through the windshield to the dirt pile. It arrived a few days ago heaped richly almost to the edges of the green tarp and I imagined a Sunday vegetable garden. Yet Sunday has come and gone and the dirt remains. Because of this the risk of kid death remains even as I pull forward forced by the dirt to angle to the middle of the street jockeying for position with other Sport Utilities with their doors swung wide to allow children with backpacks bigger than them to tumble out and make the mad dash to beat the bell.
In contrast to the families around them there is a calm as my neighbor and his daughter walk down their driveway. It’s slope is gentle, the curb cut reengineered to meet the new 3 car garage allowing them to stroll rather than slide as they head to school. For their first few steps they are protected by the dirt pile but then they have reached the midpoint of the street. As he greets me with a friendly nod his daughter reaches up for his hand and they cross the road together. They were walking as individuals and now they are a unit hands the perfect height to meet each other exactly where they are.
Later that day I met Oliver in the middle school hallway after I volunteered with a particularly talented sixth grade writer. I was distracted when Oliver approached me. Despite my lack of sentence structure and grammar I had spent our session helping the boy extend the staccato of his written voice into something a school might recognize as a sentence. And somehow it felt like a sentence. My thoughts were not on my son as we started down the wide Western steps toward the field that stretched in front of our house. He had laced his twelve year old fingers through mine. I became aware of him in step next to me and felt the spread of my fingers. He was no longer little. I used to be able to feel each of the 27 bones in his hand when I held it in mine. They felt like a baby bird’s wing and I was worried about crushing them before he could ever take flight. Now he is holding onto me and I feel muscles in his fingers made stronger through drawing and writing and shuffling cards. I am not thinking of his vulnerability but the slight discomfort of the way we are laced together.
The path home grows a little narrow and he takes a step in front of me, leading me forward. He is laughing as at first he walks directly into a leafy branch and then corrects and hip checks me sending me off of the sidewalk onto the baseball field. He loves it. “I guess it is not the biggest problem in the world having trouble walking in a straight line” he tells me. “There are so many other troubles, ones that are risky or painful or sad. This is mostly funny.” I have tried to pull my hand away at this point. He is swinging them together as he talks and walks and it is clearly too much for him to do with grace. I am getting jerked around and have not yet found firm footing. As soon as I get free he grabs onto me again. We are crossing the street now. Blazing the exact same trail that the girl did with her father 7 hours earlier. He guides us right to the dirt and laughs again. “Really the only risk is when I start to drive.” We both pause at this. We are in the middle of the street. It is still quiet, not yet elementary school pick up time so his poor aim isn’t really causing a problem. In three years though I can imagine him behind the wheel the car scraping garbage cans and crossing over yellow lines without his knowledge. He his leading me again. We are stepping over dirt, we are approaching the driveway at an angle. He narrowly misses the fence and then trips over the uneven edge. “I almost took you down.” He tells me without a trace of sorrow. “But you held me up.”
Now he is the one to pull away.
He has passed through the gate into the side yard and I hear him cooing at our cat. “I missed you all day. You are the sweetest thing. I love you so much.”
I stand on the uneven driveway I am wondering how much longer my hand will tingle from our joined walk. I will it to stay a little longer as I hear the slam of the side door. The parents are beginning to arrive to pick up their little ones, the cars gathering. I do not need to navigate.