Looking back, it was naive of me to wish my little boy’s goal might be to memorize the periodic table. What inexperienced mother doesn’t fantasize that her child channel Albert Einstein? Instead, my three-year-old, a great lover of Tonka trucks, had an early predilection to recite the names of construction vehicles. Rather than identifying chemical elements and their properties, was my prepubescent prodigy destined to become a truck driver instead?
I knew absolutely nothing about his blossoming passion, specifically the bright yellow Tonka trucks he had been introduced to on play dates. I thought a front loader referred to a washing machine. The only truck I was even vaguely familiar with was a bulldozer. Clearly, I had much to learn.
Upon realizing I had been negligent in addressing the most basic of my son’s iinterests, I began buying Tonka trucks for every occasion. Playing catch up, I planned a construction-theme birthday party with trucks I lovingly made out of refrigerator boxes painted bright primary yellow. To lend a dose of authenticity, I even made sure a real backhoe was sitting in the driveway as his little guests arrived on the big day. He was thrilled. And I had learned an important early lesson – to pay attention to his wishes – not mine.
Inevitably, he grew out of the Tonka truck stage. It would be years before another backhoe and I would cross paths. This time, it was on the construction site for our new home in California. As my son took his winter break between semesters of his junior year in college, it came as no surprise that he was itching to hop on one of the monster trucks that now dotted our landscape. He chose to make his maiden voyage on the excavator. After a detailed lesson from the contractor, it was finally under his command. He reported that its operation was counter-intuitive yet he quickly mastered the gears. After all, he had plenty of preschool experience to prepare him for the moment. At long last his boyhood dream had come true.
No longer my baby, he marveled at how the machine responded to his touch. We laughed over the difference between digging in the sand box and excavating a millenniums’ worth of unturned earth. Deep down, I hoped this experience would always remind him of the importance of home, wherever that may be. Who could have ever imagined that his love of Tonka trucks, not the periodic table, might eventually keep him a bit more connected to his home – both old and new?