As we pushed our way to the shuttle, I could feel the entire vehicle shudder as its occupants took us in: two parents, one pushing a double stroller, one pushing a single stroller.
Traveling with three kids is always an adventure, and by adventure I mean a sweaty, exhaustive, penance-like reminder of why we don't travel with three kids very often.
But Laketoberfest sounded like a perfect Saturday outing for all five of us, ages 44, 41, 4, 2 and 10 months: plenty of kid stuff and beer.
We arrived late (shocker) and the primary parking lot was full (rats!), so now here we were, about a mile from the festival, at the mercy of this shuttle. Part of me wanted to suddenly shout out, “OK, good luck, Mister! No worries, I was glad to get you to the shuttle!” then book it out of there as fast as my weary feet could take me.
But I didn't. I was too tired. Did I mention we have three kids?
Jeremy quickly emptied Charlie (4) and Emma (2) from the double stroller and swung Charlie up onto the shuttle steps. That was his only mistake.
Charlie is going through a phase best described as “Oh No Daddy Don't Leave Me.” I feel confident he's on the tail end of this 4-year bender. I do.
As my eldest son screeched in panic, I heard a sweet voice coax him up the steps. “Charlie! Come over here with me, buddy! Hey, do you want to drive the bus?!”
A shuttle angel had spoken magical words. Charlie loves buses and, as it turns out, very much wanted to drive that and any other bus our new friend cared to offer.
I pried the baby from the single stroller and grabbed Emma's hand, then climbed the steps and headed for the first empty seats I saw. I also saw something else. Everyone on the shuttle was grinning. They leaned to look past me, wanting to watch this little boy Charlie “drive the bus.”
No longer on center stage under the light of glares, my husband lugged the stroller skeletons onboard and shoved their seats wherever he could find a space. Charlie took advantage of the delay to learn the workings of the “open door, close door” button.
Momentarily closing Daddy out of the bus was funny now, not an epic tragedy.
When we arrived at the festival, my husband and I nodded at each other, an unspoken agreement that we would wait for everyone else to pour from the shuttle before we'd start our own descent.
But Beth wanted us back at the front. OK, she wanted Charlie.
With a wide grin, he pushed past adults and children alike to reunite with his new friend and her bus buttons. I couldn't stop smiling, and again, neither could my shuttle mates.
Beth turned what might have been a groan-inducing delay and spatial inconvenience into a moment of fun Charlie might remember and we wouldn't forget.
Charlie has Down syndrome. Sometimes it takes him a little extra time to understand exactly what's happening. He uses only a few words and supplements with sign language.
His smile that night, and the smiles of those around us, spoke universally.