I took the kids to a street festival this weekend. I’ve written about a mildly disastrous visit to this festival before. It’s a couple of blocks away from where we live in Chicago.
On Friday, as I was driving Kai home from school, we passed the crews putting up the traffic barriers.
“What’s that?” Kai asked.
“That’s the street festival,” I said. “Remember with the pony rides and the bouncy house?”
“Wow! Can we go there?”
And, of course, we could.
This year, I told the kids we could take the scooters instead of the stroller.
“You have to stay close to Mommy,” I said to Kai. “There will be a ton of people and I need you to be right next to me.”
“Okay,” Kai said.
I looked him over. He was wearing both his baseball cap and his helmet, something that I’m sure he did because he asks me to carry his baseball cap so he can put it on when we get wherever we’re going. I tell him that I will be happy to carry the hat, and I always forget. His new system was quite savvy.
“What did I just say?” I asked him.
“Stay close to Mommy.”
I squeezed his shoulder. “Let’s go.”
Street festivals in Chicago are usually packed, but not today. The sky was a leaden gray. It was 53 degrees. A raw, wet wind sliced through my hair. June 2nd indeed.
At the entrance, Kai was told by the attendant that he wouldn’t be allowed to actually ride his scooter—he’d need to walk with it instead.
So you know what he did? He got off his scooter and walked, no argument, no tantrum.
“What’s that sound?” he asked me looking around.
“That’s rock and roll, son,” I replied. I pointed to a band on one of the stages. “Do you want to go listen?”
“No, I want to go on a pony ride.”
Kai asked me more questions. What kind of food is that? How much farther? He stayed by my side the whole way.
I texted Emily, Kai’s beloved occupational therapist. She lives in our neighborhood and likes to meet up with us for street festivals. I think she likes to see Kai away from the office, to watch him navigate real life, in as much as a bouncy house at a street fair is real life.
By the time Emily got there, we’d already done the ponies and the train, won a bat and ball for Kai and a stuffed Clydesdale for Ryan.
Kai asked the face painter for a rainbow K.
Kai lit up when he saw Emily walking toward us.
Emily asked Kai how he was enjoying the festival.
“I didn’t want the frog pen, so I got a different toy. I choose a ball,” he said. Of course, that made no sense at all, but the speech was clear as a bell, enough so that I only had to supply a minor detail.
“He won a frog pen,” I said.
She turned to Kai. “So you got to trade it in?”
“Oh yes,” he said.
“You know,” she said, “two years ago I saw him at this same festival and he had no reaction to seeing me out of context, like he had no awareness.”
And indeed, the changes in Kai since then are most remarkable—waiting patiently in line, following verbal directions, interacting appropriately with the adults manning the various booths and games.
I tried to get Kai to show Emily his mad scooter skillz. Kai scooted a little, going maybe 10 feet, and then got off his scooter and walked it back to us.
“Oh!” I said. “I forgot. A guy told us we had to walk scooters in here.”
Kai had remembered, though.
Before long, both of the kids wanted to go home. Their hands were cold, they said. They walked their scooters toward the exit. We could have gone in two different directions, and the kids disagreed as to which way to go. Ryan refused to go in Kai’s direction, and, knowing it would just be easier, I asked Kai to go Ryan’s way.
Kai looked disappointed, but turned his scooter without argument to follow Ryan down the street.
Later that afternoon, I went to the grocery store, a task I do on the weekends so I can do it alone while Scott watches the kids. I was halfway out the door when I stopped.
“Kai, do you want to go to the grocery store with me?” I asked him.
“Oh yes!” he said, jumping up from the couch.
We bought 7 kiwis, we found a bunch of 7 bananas. Someone tried to buy 7 bell peppers, but I put the kibosh on that. Kai admonished me when I put something back in the wrong place, picked it up and put it back where it belonged.
We passed a box of Cheerios that had been abandoned in the soda aisle.
“Look at that box,” he said.
“I wonder who put that there?” I said.
“Maybe it was a ghost?”
Maybe. But I’ll tell you that even if there is a ghost at the Dominick’s who moves boxes of Cheerios, it would be less remarkable than the leaps my son has made in a few short years. If you had told me three years ago that Kai would wait in line, or walk next to my shopping cart, or be the more reasonable of my two children, or do any of the things he did today, I don't know that I'd have believed you.
Earlier, I wrote that we could have gone in two different ways. I was referring to an intersection at a street fair, but as I typed the words, I realized that I meant them in the larger sense, as well.
Back when he was three, I had no idea what the future held for Kai.
And of course, I still don’t. But I think we’re headed in the right direction. Even if we occasionally have to walk our scooter instead of ride.