Recently we watched one of his favorite movies, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the 1968 children's film about a wacky inventor and a flying car. As the star and his kids walked into their home, an old-fashioned windmill, I saw a chance to turn entertainment into education.
Pointing to the big wooden gears and shafts turned by the wind above, I asked Nolan what all that was. He beamed.
"Uh, it does kind of look like the inside of an automatic car wash, Nolan, but actually it's a --"
"Car wash!" he repeated, shaking his head as though I should know better.
It was useless. Although I was sure he had never been inside either a car wash or a windmill, I couldn't change his mind. I promised to take him to a car wash someday to show him what a windmill didn't look like.
Mistake. From that moment on, all he could talk about was the car wash. It was weeks before I kept my promise. He happened to be with me one day when I bought gasoline at a station that had a car wash next door.
Nolan was beside himself with anticipation. We pulled into the car wash, and I monitored him in his car seat with my rear-view mirror. All went well -- until the water began to spray.
Suddenly it was as wet inside the car as outside because Nolan was crying and screaming and pitching a good-old fit. In that closed car, his wailing drowned out the high-pressure machinery beating against the windows.
Nothing I said or did could calm him down, and we were stuck there until the lights signaled us ahead. Anyone within earshot would have sworn I was beating him with chains. I had no chains in the car, though.
The instant we left that 25-foot tunnel of terror, his face dried up.
"Let's do it again!" he said happily.
There was no way. Not that day, and not for weeks, although he begged constantly to go back. My wife told me not to subject him -- and me -- to another ordeal, but I said he had to get back on that horse before it was too late. I didn't want him to grow into an old man driving a dirty sedan just because he feared the car wash.
Recently, I took Nolan to a car show, and he was in good spirits, so on the way home I wheeled into that same station. This time, I tried to talk him through it.
"See the pretty colors in the foam? What color is that? Watch the machine moving. It sounds like rain, doesn't it?"
Car Wash II could have gone either way. Nolan was on the brink of being overwhelmed, but like Bruce Banner on a calm day, he kept his cool and didn't turn into the Incredible Hulk. He was smiling as we drove out.
It was a crooked smile, however, and when we slowly left the building, letting the big fans blow the car dry, he urged me to speed up just a little.
Baby steps. Nolan has mastered the car wash. If he ever gets potty-trained and through school, he might just turn out all right.
Reach Glynn Moore at (706) 823-3419 or firstname.lastname@example.org.