Sharing the Road
by Rabbi Debra Orenstein
My eight-month-old son, Emmett, has a toy car, and it makes noise. No surprise there. It is harder and harder to find a toy for babies that doesn’t light up and sing. But the sound and light show of this particular toy is especially appealing to him. My theory is that he is going to drive like his dad.
Like any self-respecting car, this one turns over when you turn the key and says “vroom, vroom” when you tug at the gear shift. But it also talks. Every time you hit the horn, it beeps and the voice of a cartoon chipmunk calls out with enthusiasm, “Get out of the way!” In fairness, there is also a little button with a police car on it that yells, “Slow down, little fella!” Sexism reigns, but I have a boy, so in this case it works.
The car sings songs including “Are You Driving, Brother John?” and “Dinah Won’t You Blow Your Horn” while simultaneously displaying letters, numbers and animals. Of course, every display is accompanied by a tinny announcement (“One puppy!” or “B is for bee!”) made in high spirits and high volume.
It’s a toy I started out hating and have come to love because he loves it. Now I look forward to its turn in the rotation of toys. My affection for this lousy noise-box brings tears to my eyes because I know it is just displaced affection for my son. I take joy in his joy.
I have listened to the soundtrack of the toy car dozens of times, and the thing it says the most often is, “We’re here!” That announcement is made whenever Emmett temporarily lets up on the gas. “We’re here!” “We’re here!” We’re here!,” says the chipmunk. And so we are. Emmett and I are here playing on the floor. I am here writing at my computer. You are here reading this e-mail. “There” is an abstraction. “Here” is where we always are.
Occasionally, I will make an announcement to Emmett after one of the car’s declarations of presence. I don’t sound like the chipmunk, but I do share its enthusiasm. “Isn’t that great, Emmett? And it’s so true! Existentially, we’re always here!” Emmett looks at me quizzically. If my husband Craig is home, he laughs.
It's so easy, as time passes, to lose our passion for the exciting announcement: "We're here! We're here! We're here!" Thank God, we are here. Thank God, we are still here. Thank God, we are here together.
But do me a favor, Emmett, and slow down, little fella. “Here” and “now” are all we have in this life, and they go by so quickly.
Emmett, age 4, reciting the Shema prayer at High Holiday services.