It was just a soda. Well… a soda and french fries.
But it was the core of a great deal of grief and anxiety for Michael yesterday.
It was a hot day; hotter than we’re ever prepared for in the ordinarily cool and rainy Portland, Oregon. We were heading to a baseball game. A minor league team was playing in the local stadium and we had three tickets given to us by friends. I’d finished up buying two more tickets to accommodate sisters and we headed out the door.
First stop, McDonald’s for a quick little bite for Michael. Chicken McNuggets, a small Dr Pepper and some fries. Concerned parents please note that this is a fairly rare occurrence; going through McD’s drive-thru for Michael is reserved for special occasions.
The stadium wasn’t too much farther along the road, and Michael dutifully ate his protein first. Unfortunately, he decided that it would be nice to continue his game of Plants Vs. Zombies on his DS rather than attending to his drink and fries.
We arrived at the stadium with twenty minutes to spare, Michael clutching his drink and fries while I held his game and other stuff. We figured he could finish up after we got inside.
Then, just at the gate where bag inspection was going on, we saw the sign: No Outside Food Or Drink!
“Michael, we’re going to have to throw these away,” his mom said gently.
He looked up at her, completely stricken. Throw them away? In the garbage? But…!!!
“We can’t bring them in, sport,” I said. “They won’t let us.”
“No!” he said.
“Yes, we don’t have any choice. They won’t let us bring them in. We can’t keep them in the car, they won’t be good any more.” his mom repeated.
“Really, you do,” I said.
His face pinched and reddened as he slowly lowered the cup of soda into the garbage can, hoping somehow there could be a last-minute reprieve; that there had to be a way to save them. I could feel his conflict, his utter and complete dismay that such a thing could be allowed in a world of justice and love, that something he’s barely even had a chance to taste could be just wrested away from him and flung into the pit of endless loss and waste.
He let them go…
…and burst into tears.
His mother tried to console him. She tried her best. She bribed him with a foam finger. She bribed him with a baseball cap. She swore he’d get a snowcone, a drink, cracker jack, anything.
I walked beside him, saying nothing.
His sister was stopped at the bag check, and forced to dump out her water bottle. The water she’d brought from home was forbidden in this place. This had a slight effect on Michael, knowing that he was not the only one to be targeted… but the effect was small (later his sister and I thought of good excuses as to why she had to bring in water: “It’s prescription water!” “It’s my late Aunt’s moisture!” “I’m collecting the sweat of all the minor league players and this will complete my collection.” “This isn’t for drinking, it’s disinfectant for cleaning the seats.”).
The tears continued steady and strong as fresh waves of grief washed over Michael as he continued to relive the horror at the gate, as he considered anew the injustice, waste and loss.
I had to admit, I understood exactly how he felt. This was something I grappled with myself as a kid, and the sense of helplessness, dismay and loss crush you slowly and unendingly like a grinding stone.
His mom assured him that we would stop by McDonald’s on the way back and get another soda and fries. That seemed to help quite a bit. “We’ll do the Scooby-Do ending, where everything comes back to the way it should be,” she said, waving her hands in front of her face to indicate the magic of a TV flashback return.
Eventually, as the game progressed, the tears abated and his smile returned. At some points he even was inspired to get up and dance along with the pop music during the inning breaks, and was overjoyed to see himself displayed up on the jumbotron twice, busting a move.
By the time we left, he was all smiles and his old chatty self.
We stopped by McDonald’s on the way back, got that small Dr Pepper and fries, and closed the matter entirely.
He had his soda and fries again. Life was good.
The soda remained untouched on the table after we got home.
It wasn’t so much that he wanted the drink to actually DRINK it, just to HAVE it.
That’s good enough.