Ryan started preschool last week. This is a first for us, having a child go to school. Ben went to Sunday school, though under two that is really just an opportunity to eat a lot of Ritz crackers. I am having mixed feelings about this. As with everything in our life, it is complicated now. On one hand I am proud of Ryan and so grateful that he is alive and able to attend any form of school. But on the other, Ben should have been starting kindergarten. Ryan’s backpack holds his lunch and a change of clothes. Ben’s backpack held a medical bag and a small machine which pumped formula through a tube into his nose. We are beginning a series of “firsts” with our second born child. It shouldn’t be this way.
We have been fielding beginning of the year questions like, “Is this your first child in school?”, “Is Ryan your oldest?” and “Do you have other kids?” All simple, common, get to know you questions – but extremely awkward as I have mentioned here before. As I sat with him during the drop off time the other morning, a little boy was playing with Cars. Ryan joined in and the other mom being friendly asked, “Do you guys watch the Cars movie at your house?” I paused, stunned – as I have yet to be asked that question. How do I answer that? Do we watch the Cars movie? I momentarily left my body and went to the world I used to know…
We watched Cars with Ben at least a thousand times (no I am not exaggerating) – multiple times a day, on loop, in the middle of the night. We viewed that movie so often we burned through one of our copies (yes that is possible). Ben has 96 individual cast iron Cars, each given to him in love. Everyone in our family was assigned a “favorite”. Jeff’s was Sally, mine Guido, Aunt Kristen – Mater, Grandpa – Doc Hudson, Gramps – the Tractor, Gram – Luigi, Grandma – Lizzy, etc. He would choose which Cars came with us to the hospital and which ones would sleep with him every night. “Life is a Highway” was his favorite song, we read Lightning McQueen books every night to go to sleep, he would only wear McQueen pajamas, he slept under a McQueen blanket, and on and on and on. Cars was not just a movie – it was part of our life with him. They were his friends, his companions, his comfort, his cheerleaders. Radiator Springs was Ben’s world. And he was ours.
I returned after a moment to my new reality, and carefully responded to this kind stranger, “Yes….we have.” We just hadn’t in about twenty two months. And with that I dropped my second son off at school and cried all the way home. For firsts. For nevers. For celebration. And for unbearable loss.
Later that night Ryan asked to watch “that car race movie”. And so we did. A first – for the three of us.