"There's one Grandpa", yelled out the oldest of the three grandsons in the car with me, "what does it say, what does it say?" Without losing my focus on the vehicle in front of us, I glanced quickly over at the bumper of the car in the next lane and responded "It says if you can read this bumper sticker you are too close".
To my surprise, instead of the puzzled look I expected from their single-digit age group, the boys all laughed heartily at this clever, time-worn warning. Ordinarily, this type of bland humor goes right over their young heads, so I was impressed by their savvy. My marveling was short-lived however, as another of the three asked "So why are you so close then Grandpa?"
"I am not too close" I explained, "I am in a different lane". But you are close enough to read it, right?" the youngest of them injected. "Yes," I responded, "but the bumper sticker is meant for someone behind them, not for me."
His drawn-out accusatory "Grandpaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?" reminded me that logic is not always the best communication tool to use on a toddler. It was apparent that he thought I was fibbing. I suppose I deserved his doubt for all the times I pretended to pull coins from his ears or snatch thumb-noses from his face. But then, that is what Grandpas do.
It didn't take long for the other two to chime in as they bounced in their safety seats with "Grandpa is too close, Grandpa is too close". How they can rock the entire van while securely fastened by seatbelts is a mystery to me.
By now my focus was waning and I had inched too close to the vehicle in front of us. The boys made no mention of that however, as that vehicle had no pseudo-lawful warning on their bumper. Instead, their chorus of condemnation grew louder and more insistent as they continued to bounce in their safety chairs, "Grandpa is too close, Grandpa is going to jail".
We had already been to lunch followed by ice-cream, so I could not use those enticements to detour their thinking. My only recourse was to do what any good grandpa would do…I surrendered! I cautiously dropped back a few car lengths until the boys thought I was no longer violating the sacred unwritten bumper sticker law.
A sudden chorus of "Yay Grandpa, you did it" signaled that I had dropped back sufficiently to have earned amnesty. All was back to normal and I would not be going to jail. The world was good again.
Now all I had to do was hope that there were no other bumper stickers with similar messages (and believe me, they were looking for them) to delay us further. If they were to spot more of that type and I had to again retreat, we might never get home.
I tried again to detour their interest from finding more stickers. I suggested the "I spy" game, the "quiet" game and all the others they had taught me, but none seemed to spark their interest.
I made up some lame stories, told a couple of silly jokes and in frustration even disingenuously offered to let them drive. They weren't biting. They wanted `only to look for more bumper stickers. Now it was more than a game; it had become a cause.
They sang out almost in unison "Over there grandpa, that car has one. Go over there and read it". I was driving and reading, explaining and sometimes re-explaining what some of the less clever writings meant.
I was embarrassed by the many lewd and obnoxious presentations, but found comfort in knowing that only one of the boys had begun to read. If the bumper sticker was too risqué, I quickly substituted my own words for what it said and moved away from that vehicle before the one learning to read could sound out the words.
When they asked me to explain the one that said "I got this car for my wife, pretty good trade huh?" and they didn't understand my explanation, it was time to go home. I set to that task and blocked out all of their pleas to read other stickers as they spotted them.
As an author, I never thought I would say this, but there can be times when it really doesn't pay to read.
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