"What to Expect When Your Child is Becoming a Monster." Now that's a book I would buy!
"Come on guys. We've got to move, Gladys will be waiting." People are grabbing bags and lunches, throwing kippot on the heads of boys running in the opposite direction. My wife and I are trying to get three kids to school and not kill each other in the process. Emotionally speaking, we're like that picture of the last American Helicopter out of Saigon at the end of the Vietman War; one of our children is inevitably hanging from the skid of the helicopter as we rush out of the apartment and head for the bus. Usually it's Raphael, the youngest of our school-age children. Down the street we run, rushing Tuvia and Avigail on to the school bus. Finally Raphael and I face each other in our first moment of quiet,
"Subway or Bus?" I ask. "Taxi." my son invariably answers.
He likes the taxis because they have televisions in the back. I hate the taxis because they have televisions in the back. Plus I'm convinced that my four year old does not need to arrive at school in a yellow cab even if many of his comrades arrive in black town cars.
Occasionally... okay, and in the rain... sure, but everyday?
Not going to happen.
What would he tell his kids when he grows up? "When I was young I took a taxi to school everyday, uphill in both directions."
This morning he chose the bus. Unfortunately, the bus took a long time to arrive and many, many cabs drove by our bus stop. Now, my kid only turned four last week. If you ask him his age he'll say "I'm four but I feel like I'm three." And he acts two, I would add, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Though we can still trick him with the DVR as to what we have recorded and what not. Even though he's in private preschool in Manhattan, he still can't read, though he does know when a cab is available for hire. All the time I see adult tourists in New York flagging down cabs that aren't empty. But this kid knows. If the light is on...the cab is empty.
As our wait grows, he starts with "I want to take a taxi." Though I'm not a Buddhist nor completely sure what a mantra is, this I would say is one. The longer we wait the more emotion filled it becomes: "I WANT TO TAKE A TAXI!" Having never read Dr. Spock's Child rearing book, I decide to open with a lie. "I don't have any money Raphael, so we can't take a taxi." He is unfazed and unbelieving.
"I WAANT TO TAKE A TAXXXXXXI."
Now there are tears, tears and twirling. My son looks like a little Jewish Sufi whirling like a dervish in the glass enclosure of the bus stop. From the other side he must look like a goldfish on crack. Earlier, I had shown him the NYCTA armored truck sitting on the corner that was picking up money from the subway. In my earlier explanation I had skipped the gun turrets and for that matter the reason for why all that armor was needed. Now I've got him in my arms and I'm saying "Look at those holes that's where they stick their guns through the door and shoot the bad guys. Isn't that cool?" It doesn't help as this kid is insane. "I WANT TO TAKE A TAXI."
Of course the bus arrives. I throw him over my shoulder kicking and screaming and we board the bus.
It felt like the trip from 86th street to 70th street took "three days" and it usually takes twenty minutes. He moaned, whined and screamed over and over, "I want a taxi." I couldn't even look to the back of the bus but I'm really shocked that no one offered me cab fare.
Had I sat through that I certainly would have.
The only person clearly enjoying it was the other man on the bus with a child. He had that look that I now know from when I fly. If there is a crying child on the plane I just take a deep breath lean back, close my eyes and think, "ain't my kid." That's what I could see in his eyes as he beamed at his daughter thinking, "ain't my kid."
Finally we got off the bus and I carried him the first block off the bus before putting him down because I thought it unhealthy to carry a four year old all the way to school. Not good for him and not good for my back. He was still crying and had switched to "I want to go home." As I pulled him past the French bakery, a doorman had suggested compromise; actually he had said, "Hey! Do what he wants."
"Unless you're going to stay with him all day at our apartment then he's not getting what he asking for." I answered.
At the French bakery the woman behind the counter offered a cookie. "Raphael, do you want a cookie?" I asked. I was trying to weigh the cost to my soul of giving my screaming son a non-kosher cookie just to get him to stop screaming. Thankfully, he was too upset to register how good a cookie would have been just then. I almost asked for the cookie for myself. A moment later, having barely passed the bakery, the same clerk came out, excused herself, and then offered a heartfelt message that when her daughter had fought school in a similar way. It had been a case of her being treated too roughly by a teacher.
She was so sincere, I didn't have the heart to tell her that all my son was being deprived of was a taxi to school. I thanked her and told her I would check into it, knowing that if anyone was in danger of treating my son too roughly, it wasn't his teachers.
And then just as quickly as it began, it ended, and with it our 45 minute pitch for birth control.
Yisrael Campbell is currently starring in "Circumcise Me" at The Bleecker Street Theater in New York City