People were everywhere around us. Disney seemed like chaos to me even at this early hour in the morning before the actual crowds got there.
I looked back to see my wife and the older one stopping to look at the paddlewheel steamer. I looked down to make sure the younger one was toddling someplace nearby. He was wandering around, weaving in and out of foot traffic. Out of concern that he would get in the way of a line of strollers coming, I scooped his sturdy frame and set him on my hip.
He was looking out, dazed, sucking on his hand. He took a glazed hand out of his mouth, and pointed a dripping finger at what he had been looking towards.
Across the sidewalk a woman was busily situating two children roughly the same ages as mine. Both of them, a girl and a boy, were dressed and polished in Disney attire from shoes to novelty hats. He watched with a keen interest.
Backpack! He said pointing again across the path. The younger one had on a brown backpack in the generic shape of a bear, or dog or rabbit. It had a cord coming from the center, which the mother was positioning on her wrist.
She looked over at the two of us and gave a friendly smile, and scooted her kids on their feet and off into the park. The rest of the group caught up with us, and we made our way to the first ride of many. I put him up on my shoulders (which, after three days, I would sorely feel as a saddle rash around my neck) and felt him shift his weight to look back at the family.
For some reason, I had felt embarrassed at his curiosity at the situation. Ashamed that we were caught staring at the umbilical cord which many parents might have a need for. Perhaps I was worried I would somehow have to explain to him why he did not have one.
As the youngest of five, it comes as little surprise that I was tended to a great deal by the older ones of the flock. Not only was I the baby, I was younger then my eldest siblings by 9-11 years. This allowed for my mother and father to put a frightening amount of trust (by today’s standards I suppose) into my sister, and more so into my brothers. I am not saying I was dumped off on anyone, but it must have been easy to assume I was “with” someone, when I wasn’t right nearby.
Besides the normal squabbles and melodramas of 5 children in a home, I was surprisingly given plenty of attention. There were the exceptions; occasionally, I would toddle out to the road in front of the house and plop down right on the double yellow line. Fortunately, is was a quiet Vermont road, and one where locals would be able to stop in time, pick me up, and knock on the front door to hand me over to a waiting older sibling.
After the pirate ride, (which the younger one screamed through) and haunted mansion (which according to the older one was “terrifying”) we sat on a bench in a shaded area to wait for bathrooms and a train ride. As we waited, I watched the younger one meander around admiring the freakishly perfect flowerbeds. I followed at a measured distance to try to take a picture, and also to prevent him from doing thousands of dollars worth of damage to the plantings. He stopped in his tracks and watched another young boy approach being led by his grownup. The two came face to face in typical toddler standoff.
Say hello! They encouraged the boy, who complied by sticking his arm out length-wise inches from my son’s face, and open palmed waved it from side-to-side. (This is exactly how my son reciprocated, as is customary for toddlers) Then my son leaned in to admire the monkey-shaped backpack.
The Vermont homestead was classically nestled on 4 acres of land. It was mixed with sweeping lawns, out buildings, small patches of forest, and dotted and ringed with large old lilac bushes. Perhaps the best feature was that sat on the edge of a great rolling alfalfa field. This was every child’s dream. It was a field lush with tall grass for exploring in the hot summers, and fast cold hills for sledding in the arctic January days. And the single biggest focus to me as early as I could remember was the pigpen.
Situated a good 300 yards to the left of our back property line, it was right along a dirt path under a tall old pine tree. When I needed some adventure, my sister and brothers would often take me over to see the huge hogs wallowing in the shade, safe in their three sided pen and shed, lazily watching the one or two chickens that always seemed to wander around.
You Guy’s waiting for the train? The woman with the other boy asked sweetly towards my child.
That’s right. We love trains, don’t we buddy? I answered watching him wonder why anyone would want to wear a stuffed animal on his or her back. He reached out and started to squeeze the head, and the other boy recoiled.
No. He said with enviable toddler frankness.
Oh now, come on! Be nice. She scolded him with a light jerk on the tail rope connecting to her wrist to his back.
I’m sorry! I said lighthearted.
Don’t worry dear, we know how boys are! Have fun! She led him up the path towards the bathroom and I took up my still curious boy in my arms.
Backpack! He said, again pointing a sticky hand towards to other boy.
I’m unclear as to how long I had been gone for by the time all heads had been counted. In my mind, I can see my parents growing more and more frantic as they tore through the house with dinner on the table. Checking 7 bedrooms, numerous closets, a basement, living areas and sheds, would require an army. Luckily, they breed one in the home. But soon it became apparent that I was no longer inside.
I can visualize the party fanning out to the lawns and woods. Calling my name out, my mother yelling to the neighbors across the street to see if I had made my way there. I can see the scowl on my older brother’s faces the concern on my father’s and the terror on my mother’s.
Eventually, they found me (of course). I am not sure who put the pieces together, but apparently, once they hit the dirt path to the Pigpen, they started to find small pieces of clothing leading the way to the prize. Their joy and relief at finding me was soon tempered with the shock of seeing me not just at, but in the pen with the huge hundred pounds of pigs, (Not to mention disgust at what I was rolling in). My father hoisted me up in front of him, and the parade of children led him and I back to my mother.
A long loud piercing whistle broke off his stare, and we rushed up to the iron fence to watch the miniature steamer pull through the tunnel. I pulled the boy’s thick little body close to mine, and felt his excitement pulse through his chest. As the train came into the station, he shuddered with delight and yelled as loud as the whistle. With his feet stomping in place, I let him go off up the platform to pick his seat.
You got him? My wife asked as she tried to get the older one gathered and situated
Yup. I said. I got him.