In New Orleans, my parents live right behind a levee tasked with the dubious job of holding in Lake Pontchartrain. Each morning, they drink coffee while gazing at the large green hill and watching the seagulls drift in the wind.
You can’t see the lake – the levee blocks it from view – but you can sense its looming presence. You can smell it.
When I was growing up, the levee was a short walk away. Sometimes we went there with cardboard boxes we used for our version of sledding. Other times we just rolled down the hill like logs, getting dizzy and collecting grass in our hair.
Over the holidays, my children took to the levee like native New Orleanians. I wanna go play on the levee was the Tyrant’s waking request each morning. Sometimes they ran up to the top without any toys or props, and spent an hour just flitting like dragonflies. I sat at the kitchen table and watched them from afar, and only became uneasy when they disappeared over the top and played on the lake side. If they didn’t pop up within a minute or two, I’d march outside and yell for them to stay closer.
On our final morning there, the kids played on the levee while we packed up the Motorized Landfill. My parents had given the Tyrant a little plasma car for Christmas, and Santa had brought the Diva a skateboard. They came up with the excellent idea of riding their new toys down the hill.
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” asked my mom. But I don’t like to judge. Anyway, a broken bone would just delay our departure, leading to another day or two in my hometown. SCORE!
My darling Diva is blessed with confidence. She approaches new challenges with both scrutiny and certainty. She stood atop the levee and calculated her probable path, then carefully arranged herself on her board and pushed off. With arms and legs extended, she flew down the hill like Supergirl, exhilarated, with the grace and control of a bird. At the bottom, she hopped up, grabbed her board, and marched back to the top.
The Tyrant possesses a breathtaking fearlessness. She recklessly leaps from furniture, branches, swings – anything she can climb – regardless of her odds for survival. Ask her to try something new, and she says, “Shuwah!” Sure. (Note to self: crack cocaine may pose a threat to this child.) At the top of the levee, she jumped into her little red car and thrust herself downward. The car looked like a movie set convertible that had driven off a cliff. It bounced and careened down the hill toward certain destruction. My daughter’s tangled hair obscured her face as she picked up speed, and I held my breath waiting for the inevitable wreck.
But it was minor. The car flipped onto its side at the levee’s bottom, and she could barely extract herself from the toy because she was laughing so hard.
The Pterodactyl watched his sisters with longing. He is my cautious child, alarmed by anything new or risky. Simply closing the van’s sliding door seems hazardous to him. What if my arm gets cut off?
For a long time, he stood on the levee and observed the girls ride again and again. I waved to him. He waved back, smiling bravely to show me he was having fun anyway.
Finally, he asked his sister for a turn in the red car. Hot Firefighter Husband and me stopped packing and watched. At the top of the levee, he pointed the plastic red nose down, and lowered himself in, keeping one foot on the ground. He rested there for a long moment, long enough that I thought he would retreat. But then he suddenly pushed off, and he flew, hands tightly gripping the steering wheel and eyes wide open. I could tell he was barely breathing. Down, down, down he went, picking up speed, till the hill flattened out and he stopped abruptly, and we could hear his giggly laugh echoing across the imaginary boundaries he had drawn for himself.