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Hot Rod Henry Never Waves Goodbye

You can hear a hot rod from a long way off.

If you think about it, in a lot of ways our American spirit—our collective heart and soul—have always been rising up like glorified steam out of the distant sound of souped-up Mustangs and Chevelles and Novas revving their engines at red lights three blocks away from where we are standing. Roaring like king lions over across town, threatening to run you over and steal your girl.

I guess that’s why I keep running into the same old thrill.

I catch the electric tow truck buzz from my seat on the couch, and I know that Henry is heading out for a ride. It moves in fits and pauses at first: brzzzzz-stop-brzzzzzzzzzz-stop-brzz-stop.

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He’s maneuvering, I know, straightening her out. He’s aiming his ride toward the living room, and toward me.

Towmater is Henry's ride—he’s that truck character from the movie Cars. But really it could be anything. It could be a fire truck or a cop car or the Batmobile, I reckon, and he wouldn’t give a crap. He’s all about the cruising and not too caught up in the whole sophomore-year-of-high-school-I-want-a-GTO thing yet. It’s a big battery-operated thing that I have to charge up out in the garage every couple of weeks. A Christmas gift from his grandparents last year; the gift of gifts that blew away everything my wife and I had spent months selecting and wrapping and leaving under the tree for him.

Whatever.

I mute the TV in front of me and listen closely. Something comes over me, too, but it’s one of those things, one of those feelings there is no word for in the English language, really. The Italian or Spanish probably have a word, but I don’t. It’s kind of like if you’ve ever been there when they drop the green flag at a dirt track race. Lame, I know, but the word is in there somewhere, so dig it up yourself. Either way, my heart whops against my rib bones and I’m Goose Bumps McGee.

Then suddenly it’s quiet and there’s a silent moment hung out in the ether. The house is totally frozen for a couple of seconds since his last rev-and-stop.

I get giddy.

I swear to you that he looks way more like a 33-year-old beach rat riding a Harley down the Pacific Coast Highway than a snot-nosed toddler.

And then he hits it.

BRZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. He’s coming!

BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

It’s louder and louder, doppler-ing into my world as he heads toward me and then, just like that, the magic happens.

Henry has both his hands on the handlebars that steer the car, and as he appears from around the corner by the bottom of the steps that separate the kid’s playroom from here in the living room, his little body is straight and still, which in itself is super rare.

Oh my God, it frggin’ kills me, too. My boy, my 3-year-old son, riding on this tow truck with eyes and a yellow hitch on the back—I swear to you that he looks way more like a 33-year-old beach rat riding a Harley down the Pacific Coast Highway than a snot-nosed toddler. His face is expressionless as he turns the corner, steering (STEERING!) his way into my sight. I try and catch his eye as he passes under the TV up on its high stand like he’s just passing by another billboard out on Sunset Boulevard.

At the last possible second, he looks at me, nods his head, lifts a tiny finger in a half-hearted wave, and then accelerates down the straightaway that leads to turn one, down into the kitchen. Then, like the coolest breeze I ever felt, he’s just up and gone—my boy, my lad, my little man.

What the hell just happened?

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Who is that kid riding off into the sunset of farther rooms and turning corners toward girls waiting to wave at him and dudes wanting to race him for the very juice in his guts, and loose cannon elderly drivers bearing down on him with their 35-in-a-55 zone-to-the-supermarket-and-back Edsels of death?

And, for the love of everything righteous and good, why the hell is he not turning back around?

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