We take a lot of car trips. Thank God for trucks. Two year old Etta yells “Uk” when she sees her first truck and then adds a “Mo” for each subsequent truck. Sometimes there are so many trucks around us that she sits as far forward as her car seat straps will allow, points her fingers out in simultaneous scarecrow-like directions, and makes the most serious face she can can as a way of letting us know how important she takes her truck-spotting job. Her serious face involves frowning and breath-holding, so she always ends up resembling the Chinese Brother who swallowed the sea.
From their carseats, the kids pump their arms like superheroes to get truck drivers to blow their horns. When the truckers respond we cheer and howl, when they don’t we send up a unified “Awwwwww!” For our humble minivan to suggest something to a rumbling truck, and to have that truck reply isn’t really like David beating Goliath, it’s like David getting Goliath to sing. (What the kids don’t know yet is that nobody can see them through our minivan’s tinted windows and the drivers are gamely responding to my bearded husband’s sweet air-pumping from the passenger seat.)
Amos, three and a half, wants to know what’s in every truck he sees. A past-time that began as a way to keep him distracted through incessant engaging chatter when we traveled with him when he was a small, unhappy passenger (maybe that truck has chickens maybe that truck has mashed potatoes maybe that truck has ice cream) has become an effective time-passer on our car trips.
Recently I drove alone with the kids for about two hours on the Long Island Expressway (alone with the kids seems like an oxymoron, until you’ve been stuck in traffic with a couple toddlers on the LIE). The truck game was especially exciting because there’s a stretch in Queens where the triple-lane-each-way highway is surrounded by eye-level elevated roadways, many of which have their own exciting truck-traffic jams.
Uk! Etta announces.
Yes I see that truck I reply.
It’s yellow and green and red and I see a boat on it, Amos says. What’s in that truck? he asks.
Probably somebody’s furniture I say.
Why somebody’s furniture? Amos asks.
Well sometimes a family might get tired of living in their house and they might decide to live in another house and even though they can drive or take an airplane to get to their new house they have to have a big truck like that one move their things, like furniture.
Oh Amos says.
Mo! Etta says, pointing.
What’s in that brown truck? Amos asks.
Well, that’s a UPS truck. You know when that nice man in the brown clothes brings presents to us sometimes? He’s a UPS man and he drives a brown truck like that. That brown truck is probably full of presents and packages.
Why doesn’t the truck have a door? Amos asks, as we pass and see the driver’s entire body, perched on his driving stool.
Maybe he has to deliver so many little presents that he doesn’t want to open the door every time.
Or maybe he’s hot in his brown truck, Amos guesses.
That truck has a picture of potato chips on it, Amos says.
What do you think it has in it? I ask.
Potato chips? Amos says, but why does it have potato chips in it?
Well you know how we go to the store to buy potato chips? This truck is bringing new potato chips to the stores so when people go to buy potato chips, the stores will have potato chips.
This goes on for about an hour. And while it may seem tedious, it’s strangely exhilirating for me. When I was young I took everything for granted. If Rhinestone Cowboy was playing on our local radio station, I thought that meant Glen Campbell himself was in the little antennaed building on the hill behind the Big Bear. I was a faculty brat and , until high school, I thought everyone in the world had a summer vacation. That Pete was still behind the window at the post office, and that Abe was still at the deli counter during summer months just didn’t register in my closed mind.
In my mind, trucks were just big mysterious vehicles that had nothing to do with my own royal life. I basically sat back and enjoyed a steady stream of pixie sticks and Christmas presents and didn’t stop to realize that this was only possible because of enormous amounts of organization in the bigger world. I probably didn’t imagine that truckdrivers were doing anything other than living out some odd and exotic lifestyle.
Because I feel like I learned so many obvious things so much later in life than most, it’s empowering to clue Amos in on some of the glorious and sensible workings of the world he lives in. It’s exciting that he’s so curious about it. We continue to learn. Every truck is a teachable moment.
Mo! Etta shouts at an armored truck.
Oh great I think, this one will be fun to explain. That’s an armored truck Amos, I say, making sure to slow down as we pass it. See how strong and protected it is?
Like a knight in shining armor? he says, referring to his Fisher Price castle set. What’s in the truck with armor? Amos asks.
Lots of money, I say.
A lot of a lot of a lot of a lot of money? Amos says.
So much money I say.
Then why does the truck look like that Mommy. Why does it have armor on it? Amos asks.
As the explanation bubbled up in my mind, I realized how absurd this was going to sound to him. How absurd the reality of it really is. I didn't answer because I was still mulling it over myself.
Why does it have money in it? Amos asks again.
Well you know when we pay money to the lady at the store? I say. When everybody pays money to the store the store gets so much money and so this truck comes to pick up the money to take it to the bank.
But why does it have to have armor on it Mommy?
I don’t know what to say. I’m thinking of saying because someone might try to take that money? But I can’t figure out how I’ll answer the why that that response would get. Because someone who can’t share will want to get all of the money for free? Because the person who decides he wants that money might try to hurt the driver to get it?
And I can’t figure out what to say.
And Amos says again why does that money truck have to have armor on it?
But then Etta says Mo! and we’re back to ice cream trucks, flatbed trucks, cement trucks, and tankers.
And while a part of me is left wondering why we live in a world where the money trucks have to have armor, there’s no time to dwell on it. We’re rolling forward with the trucks. And now it’s time to learn how cement is mixed and how ice cream stays cold and how garbage is mashed.
We learn so much from our conversations about trucks.
7 years ago