On our way to school yesterday—
NIK: One, two.
ME: I don’t understand; can you use your words to tell me more?
ME: Thank you! Here you go.
I hand Nik two tic tac candies.
It’s a game we play each morning. It started years ago as a way of encouraging counting skills. Clearly, we are beyond that now and we have modified it over time. Now, I use this same exchange to work on language skills and, sometimes, concepts.
NIK: Three, four.
ME: I understand, but you just had two. You need to wait.
NIK: Three, four, please.
ME: Tell you what, buddy, you may have three and four after we pass the fire station.
As I hear the words come from my mouth, it occurs to me—I don’t know if Nik really understands. We don’t exactly narrate our daily travels anymore and we don’t know any firefighters. Other than a character in a story, I’m not sure Nik’s really been exposed to the idea of a fire station. I mean, we drive past the large brick edifice multiple times a day—on the way to school, on the way home, when we go to the store, the park, the pool. It is a landmark known to everyone because of both its importance and its location. We take it for granted as simply another part of the scenery.
NIK: Three, four. Now, please, Mama.
ME: No, sweetie. You need to wait until we get to the fire station. Do you know where that is?
I see Nik sign “yes” in the mirror, but I’m not convinced he really knows.
As we approach the intersection, the light turns red; I ask Nik to point to the fire station. He points, vaguely, to the right side of the car; the fire station is on the left. Realizing he doesn’t know what I’m talking about, my heart lurches a little.
In that instant, it becomes vitally important to me that my son understands what the fire house is and where it is— as if it’s a confirmation that he does, indeed, have things in common with his typical peers. After all, all boys love fire houses and fire engines, right? I sigh, wistfully, and remind myself that it’s okay if he doesn’t. Maybe.
ME: (clearly refusing to give up as I point to the fire house on the opposite corner) Nik, look. That’s the fire station. It’s the house where the fire engines live. Can you see it, buddy?
NIK: Fire engine.house. Fire engine house. Inside.
ME: Oh, sweetie, we can’t go inside. We have to go to school.
The light changes and we begin to drive. I tell myself it’s a start; we can keep working on it.
As we drive past the fire station, I hear some rapid vocalizations from Nik followed by a flurry of beeps from his device.
NIK: Fire engine. Sit. Fire engine. Sit.Later.
ME: Can you use a sentence so I understand what you mean, sweetie?
NIK: I.want.sit.fire.engine. Today. I want sit fire engine today, please, Mama.
And that, my friends, is how it started to rain inside my car, forcing this mama to drive to school without being able to see a thing. It is also why I am now on a mission to take my boy to the fire station as soon as possible.