We’re given strict instructions, my wife and me, to get in the car and drive. Instinctively, we know that hardly any weight is needed on the gas pedal. Just enough to make the engine putter and move ever-so-slowly forward.
Ahead of us, our 5-year-old son, Kaleb, pedals his bicycle vigorously. He’s convinced he can go faster than the car. We know this because he tells us so.
Granted, he also makes it very clear that we are to stay behind him at all costs. But neither I nor his mommy, nor a legion of mechanical engineers for that matter, can convince him that the car can go faster.
His mind is made up.
Of course, my wife, Kim, and I don’t mind at all. Tired of struggling to keep up with Kaleb on foot, we welcome the air-conditioned opportunities to follow carefully behind as our preschooler pedals his way throughout our neighborhood.
Naturally, we give him enough space ahead of us to keep it safe. We also stop occasionally to give him a water cup, usually after he makes his routine loop around a particular manhole cover.
It’s his roundabout.
Other times, we have to stop as Kaleb sets his bike aside and hurries to grab a random stick or leaf to take home. After handing it to one of us, he promptly returns to his bike and proceeds to lead us back home, where he proudly declares himself “The Winner!”
He certainly is. I’m not gonna dispute it, even though the car can reach 120 mph, and Kaleb can accelerate his bike up to about 10 mph, according to an estimate from the car’s speedometer.
But to a 5-year-old, 10 mph is warp speed.
That, and wearing a cape or towel can instantly make you go airborne and pump your muscles full of super strength. Likewise, ordinary sticks can transform into virtually anything, ranging from ancient ninja swords to a magical witch’s broom, and other things like hardwood floors can become a lava pit.
A dark bedroom, incidentally, can easily be mistaken for a hungry dragon’s lair.
So many fun possibilities… And yet, I’m fully aware that, at some point, the dull reality of the Adult World will make its humdrum entrance, restricting creativity and doling out realistic expectations and major disappointments.
And putting muzzles on any hint of childlike silliness.
Sometimes I wonder how much longer Kaleb has until the Adult World Blues set in. Myself, I was about 7 years old when I got my first heavy dose, and it came as a result of my obsession over a cereal toy.
I remember well when the obsession set in, sparked by a picture on a Honey Smacks box. The picture advertised a nifty red-and-white flashlight that featured the Honey Smacks mascot.
I certainly dug ol’ Dig’em, and especially the awesome opportunity for some cool adventures he was offering. At least, that’s the direction my mind went as I examined the free flashlight, the perfect tool for shining much-needed light in sunken treasure ships, journeying through haunted forests devoid of moonlight, or escaping the booby-trapped perils inside an ancient Egyptian pyramid.
Or even help your mother find her keys after she habitually drops them somewhere outside at night.
Indeed, the possibilities were endless. And all it required was the mailing-in of a little order form that would have to be cut off the cereal box.
I was hooked. Instantly, I showed the order form to my mother, who told me she’d help me cut the order form off the box and fill it out once I finished all of the cereal.
Now, I’m not one to brag, but I’m certain that I hold the world’s record for the fastest devouring of Honey Smacks.
As promised, my mother helped me with the order form, then helped me properly prepare an envelope before I dashed out the door and put it in the mailbox. I truly can’t recall another time when I’ve been prouder to raise the mailbox flag, eager to alert the mail lady.
Anytime now, I thought while watching the mailbox from the window. But before the mail lady could drive up, my mother told me to get in the car. We were going to see my grandparents.
Fine, fine, I thought, convinced I’d have a package in the mail later that day when we came home. At least, that’s what watching Looney Tunes taught me. Especially Wile E. Coyote, who constantly ordered wacky contraptions from the Acme Corporation, receiving the goods in mere seconds.
Sharing my anticipation with my grandparents, one of them decided to give it to me straight: There would be no package when I got home.
In fact, there probably wouldn’t be one until about four to six weeks.
They were right. And while that long wait gave me my first sniff of Adult World Blues, the real heartbreaker came when the package finally arrived.
I remember how the fuse to my disillusionment became lit when I saw the small delivery. I’d envisioned it arriving in a huge box, just like in the cartoons. Still, it was neat to receive my very own package, and I opened it carefully, reaching inside.
Somehow, I’d pictured the flashlight would’ve been much bigger. But it fit in the palm of my hand.
And to top that, the thing didn’t work.
My bowls of Honey Smacks have tasted awful bitter since then. The boring, well-that’s-how-it-goes reality of the Adult World Blues got ahold of me. And there’s no escaping it, no matter how fast we can go.
Keith Huffman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.