Cheese Touch and Backpacks
I have developed a nervous tic over the last three years. It is not one of those things I normally discuss in mixed company, but a third grader has given me… well… what I can only describe as the twitch that now resides in the back of my neck and relentlessly utters two tiny little words…
I don’t remember exactly when it started. Maybe sometime in the middle of Jack’s Kindergarten year. This small tap on my back and a whisper.
I turned around to this sweet face, his blue eyes beaming with delight. He ran on the bus before I could retaliate.
He had just discovered the joy of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and decided to unleash this epic battle of wills on our unsuspecting bus stop. If you are unaware of what the Cheese Touch is, it’s the childhood game of cooties modernized for the 21st century kid and immortalized in Jeff Kinney’s wonderful book and film series. If somebody has the Cheese Touch, they will be an outcast until they pass it onto someone else by touching them. The only way for people to protect themselves from the Cheese Touch is to cross their fingers. Yay for kid logic!
At present, our bus stop is tainted with much cheese funk. I think I have been tainted for all eternity.
Everyday it is Parents vs. Kids. Parents vs. Parents. Connor vs. Everyone.
My fingers have been crossed for almost three years, fused together each and every morning as if I was trying to avoid the plague. Connor always arrives at the stop later than most of the other kids. Sometimes a chain of warning cries gets passed along by my son to the other children to the rest of the stop, “CONNOR IS COMING!”; other times I have to keenly tune my hearing to the swish of his shorts or the rustle of his backpack. Sometimes he wears bright orange. Other times its camouflage. I have caught him hiding behind parked vans where his mother has warned me of his presence. Sometimes he strikes everyday, weeks at a time. Sometimes he waits weeks to strike. Three long years.
Sometimes he is almost thwarted…
I was sooooo stealthy that day. I proceeded down my hill toward the stop. I caught a glimpse of a backpack peeking out from behind a telephone pole. My heart thumped in my chest. I felt like I was in the middle of some covert operation. I cut through a neighbor’s front yard, onto their porch, and down their front stoop to reach the other side of the pole where the boy’s view was slightly obstructed. “Don’t let Connor know I can see him.” I whispered these words to Jack as he ran ahead of me towards the other kids. I approached and I reached towards him with pointed finger. And just as I was about to finally touch the tip of his hoodie, I don’t know if I took one too many steps or if Connor became aware of the other parental spectators who were desperately trying to muffle their laughter in their hands, but he ducked and covered with the expertise of a kid twice his age. We all burst into laughter at what almost could have been.
Other times he is nothing short of victorious…
I was standing by the bus line saying “see ya later” to the kids. I did not think he was going to school that day so my defenses were down. He came out of his house like a shot. I heard his familiar swish but I was powerless to stop it from happening. The world converted to a slow motion montage as I was abruptly struck. I could almost hear Adagio for Strings playing in the background. I feigned a defeated collapse in the neighbor’s yard and dramatically punched the ground. I raised my fists to the heavens and screamed “CURSES!” I swore my cry echoed throughout all of the South Hills that morning. I saw his smiling, mocking face through the bus window as he rode off in victory.
I am never safe. Once, while I was comforting my son at the stop he brushed my shoulder while I was in mid hug with my boy. He whispered those cursed words in my ear.
There is a glorious sled riding hill in the park close to our stop. We parents have joked that one day before Connor graduates to the middle school we will finally just have to have an epic “Braveheart” style battle. The children of our Avenue Bus Stop on the hillside, Connor in face paint and kilt leading the charge to the adults down below. “Freedom and Cheese!” will be their cry.
I jokingly tell the parents that one day I imagine Connor showing up at the my nursing home. My hands crippled with arthritis, no longer able to cross my bony fingers. I will be helpless. He will arrive, dressed as an orderly, brush my arm and whisper those words one last time.
And our beloved crossing guard Bob will be smiling down from wherever he is, taking it all in, and laughing at this precocious little boy, our silly games, and our little bus stop family. RIP Robert Rivet. Thank you for laughing with us and finding joy in all of us.