Thursday, March 27, 2008

The announcer

"Get going," came the voice from behind me.

"What?" I said, startled. I was settling into the driver's seat of our minivan after buckling Ulysses into his child's seat, and gathering up from the floor the orange knit gloves he'd peeled off his hands. We had just spent a pleasant hour at the playground of Berkley Park, our first outdoor excursion since Wisconsin entered its harshest winter on record several months ago.

It was different from our last playground visit. I'd taken along my iPod, but I never plugged into my usual podcasts, because instead of mostly silence and squeals, Ulysses carried on nonstop conversation. "Up, Mama, up! I up. You up. Sit down! Slide!" We sat side by side atop the pair of straight slides. "Ready, set, go! We did it! We won! Come on, Mama, let's go again. Let's slide! No, Mama, that's not your seat, that's my seat. That's your side. Mama! OK. One, two, three -- yippee!"

It was close to 7 when a chill wind picked up against the fading sunlight. "Wind," said Ulysses, and he reached around behind his head to tug at the collar of his jean jacket. He pulled up, trying to loop it over the top of his head.

"Mama, help me," he said.

"That coat doesn't have a hood," I said.

It was the first time in several months he'd been outdoors without his sturdy, hooded overcoat -- a good ninth, at least, of his total time on Earth so far. By now a jacket with no hood must be an untenable proposition, I thought as he continued to tug

"Mama! Help me!" he said, now agitated. His words were crumbling into a cry. "No hood! No hood! Aggh!"

Or maybe he was simply cold, I realized, suddenly. I whipped off my beret and fitted it over his blue denim ball cap, tucking it down against the back of his neck.

"How's that?" I asked.

"Hood!" he said, happily. I sunk my head a little deeper into my jacket and watched him run towards the climbing rungs.

"Look, a swing! A bridge! Run on bridge, Mama! I'm gonna get you! OK, that's enough. Green car. Come on. Come on, Mama, come on!"

Now, in the warm van, the voice came from behind me with the even-toned authority of a public announcement. "Get going," it repeated.

I turned the key in the ignition.

"You're doing great!" said the voice.

I suddenly felt I was a character in a kids' video game who had accomplished some goal -- frosting the cupcake rolling by on the conveyor belt, or saving the emperor penguin. Had I really turned the key, or had I just clicked on it?

As I rolled the van from the parking spot, the announcer chimed in again, as stentorian as a tone could be in the octave above high C:

"That's awesome!"

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