If necessity is the mother of invention, desperation is its grandmother.
I’m driving home from picking up two grandsons from school. They are both strapped into the back seat when the yelling starts. I hear a swat, then a howl followed by a bloodcurdling battle cry, and the scrimmage begins.
I’m merging onto a stretch of expressway that resembles a French braid and our three lives depend on my total concentration.
“Let’s play a game.” I shout over the battle of fists coming from the back seat of my Jeep.
They answer with another smack and another cry of pain.
“There can only be one winner; everyone else will be losers.” I singsong the word “losers” knowing that might divert their attention.
I merge left thanks to the kindness of a young man in a yellow car.
The older one asks over the screams of his younger brother, “What kind of game?”
“Let’s count trucks. We like trucks.” I try not to sound desperate.
“That’s no fun. That isn’t special.” There is a whine in his voice. He detests math in every form and cannot be seduced into doing “work.”
I merge left again and this time I give the yellow car a break.
“Yellow cars,” I say. “Have you two ever noticed how few there are?” The game will be fair. The three-year-old knows his colors and can count up to twenty.
The back seat is quiet now as I merge left one last time. We are now safely on our route, and I settle in for the 30-minute ride. “Whoever sees a yellow car or truck first gets to claim it, and the person with the highest number by the time we get to grandma’s is the winner.”
“One,” the oldest says, claiming the yellow car we pass on our right.