Sunday in the Park
February 27, 2010
He’s the little guy in our family. The youngest, shortest, slightest and, at five years old, he has been wearing glasses for two years already. Axel is also the funny man. He needs to be. His sister, at age eight, is accomplished at everything she tries black-diamond ski runs with her dad, skateboarding, the drums, math. Lots of things come easy to Mz Iz. Their cousin, Tyler, at six, is a sweetheart. Thoughtful. As tall as Iz. Strong. Animal loving. And when they are all together now, the older two tend to bond and the little guy is a little left out.
It happened recently at a family birthday dinner in a noisy restaurant where the Asian chef was busy putting on a show, on the hot grill, tossing shrimp and rice and making onions into edible volcanoes. We were spread out, everybody laughing and talking over one another. I was sitting closest to the two older kids. In the cacophony of sounds and brightly colored wrapping paper, I looked to other end of the table where Axel sat, with his jacket still on, puzzling over a little Valentine toy I had given him. His parents had been helping him and now they were talking to the other adults, and watching the older kids fully enjoy the dinner.
I figured if everyone stayed where they were except me and Mz Iz, I could switch out without disrupting things too much and go sit by Ax. Iz loved the whole musical-chairs aspect and moved easily. Axie seemed surprised to have a new dinner partner but welcoming. He showed me his toy. Then we talked about his school. Then we/he blew out the candles on my ice cream. He had the second bite.
Sometimes Axel is a bit like Max from "Where the Wild Things Are," a book and movie he fully enjoyed. He can be too loud when he’s not perfectly quiet. Too, um, bathroom-humor inappropriate when he’s not being as smart as his dad. (I had the child, who, around Axel’s age, when someone would wonder why the sky was blue, would explain the light refraction from particles in the air. That precise child grew up to be a physicist.) I had had a good time with all the kids that night at dinner but it had been long overdue to sit a spell with Axel.
Apparently his dad felt the same way. He called the next night to suggest that maybe I could take just Axel to lunch sometime. I loved how much my son loved his son and I promised to do so that very weekend. Which turned out to be busy, snowy, and ever so not convenient. Still, I had promised. So on Sunday I drove down the hill with no plan in mind. Axel was ready and excited for an adventure.
I had one rule about lunch. He could choose, so long as it wasn’t the place he likes to call Ol’ MacDonald’s. Once in the car he named a trendy pizza parlor that I had no idea how to drive to. I asked if I could substitute a location but still find pizza. He agreed and started talking about his best friend who has two moms AND a dinosaur lizard. It was my turn to listen. We ended up at The Pie, an underground pizza joint near the University.
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Axel had been before, a long time ago, with his family. He remembered, mostly, the pinball machine. We ordered a couple of slices and a pitcher of (root) beer and I gave him a fistful of quarters for the game. When the pizza man announced over the mic, "Axel, your pie is ready," you never saw a face light up so fast. "Oma, they said MY name!" After lunch, I had a thought and, sure enough, the Natural History Museum a block away was open for exploration.
He had also been there before but, as he explained, it was a field trip. What I understood this to mean is the little guy didn’t have a chance to linger at the stuff he thought was cool or spend enough time in the tepee and now he could. When we arrived to find the room where you brush off the sand to reveal the dinosaur bones completely empty, he was completely happy. He crawled up on the stool, took the brush and suggested I might want to take a picture. I teased him and said, "What should I take picture of?" and with all the seriousness of his father, he said, "Axel Polson, paleontologist." Naturally, I took the archival shot.
Driving back home, in the snowstorm du jour, I thought again how lucky I am to live so close to all my grandchildren. I don’t know who they are working to become, but I know it is a gift to be able to discover, with them, them. On any day, but certainly on a Sunday in (and out of) the Park
Teri Orr is the director of the Park City Performing Arts Foundation that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts and the Big Stars Bright Nights Summer Concert Series at Deer Valley. She is also a former editor of The Park Record.