Once, when my wife was complaining about something our kids had done, or hadn’t done, I reminded her of a conversation we had had not long after we got married. She had brought up the subject of children, and I had suggested we get some hamsters instead. That idea was about as popular as a butcher at a peta convention.
But years later it made more sense to my wife, when she was griping about the boys. I said, “I don’t want to hear it. When you said, ‘Let’s have kids’ I said, ‘Let’s get hamsters.’ If we’d gotten hamsters they’d be dead and flushed by now.” She had no choice but to agree.
Now our oldest son is gone. He graduated from high school last week, and he’s gone off on his own. We don’t even have the summer to spend with him, doing the final things families usually do, like last vacations and such, because he left the day after graduation, to be a counselor at a Christian youth camp for the summer. After that he’ll be going to college at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. And yes, they actually have colleges in Arkansas, contrary to popular belief. And soap. We checked.
Bill Cosby has offered a lot of sage wisdom about being a parent. Once he said, “My wife and I have five children. The reason we have five children is because we don’t want six.” Jocelynn and I have been able to relate to that sentiment for the past decade and more. We have three boys because we don’t want four. But now, with Courtland gone, I’m wondering if four would have been all that much more trouble. Or ten.
For many years my wife has maintained that people with only one child weren’t really parents. Of course, they’re parents, but what she means is that they don’t have to do a lot of the things parents of multiple children have to do, such as break up fights constantly, and arbitrate disputes where both parties (or neither) is in the right. Or deal with the dilemma of trying to make everything come out fair, as if that were possible. And they don’t have to settle disagreements about whose turn it is to take out the trash, or wash the dishes, or vacuum the dog. Life must be almost peaceful in such homes.
Cosby also said, “Our goal is to get all our children out of the house before we die.” That was sort of our goal, too, before we realized it might actually happen. It’s easy to wish things were easier until you realize how much harder it will be when things are easier. And, honestly, things are a lot harder now, in some ways.
I remember when Courtland turned five years old. I brought home his present, a Red Rider BB gun, and my wife put her foot down. She put it down in the middle of my back. I was told in no uncertain terms I was not giving a dangerous weapon to a kid who consistently put his shoes on the wrong feet. She finally agreed to let me give him a little Swiss Army knife for his birthday. He didn’t get the BB gun until he was eight. It took me three years to talk his mom into that, and she still wasn’t comfortable about it.
But that was nothing compared to her anxiety when he got his driver license. She wanted to put her foot down again, but I told her we had to let him drive sometime. She said, “Why?” It’s been two years, and I still don’t have an answer for that one.
I’ve learned, however, to be very careful what I tell the boys, because they never forget anything. Well, they forget to pick up their dirty clothes from the floor, until they’ve been told 5,497 times. And they forget, until midnight, that they’re supposed to bring four dozen ham and cheese sandwiches to school the next day for a class party. And they forget, until it’s time to leave for school in the morning, that they need a particular shirt or pair of shorts washed, for a tennis tournament that afternoon. But they never forget anything I tell them if it’s something I shouldn’t have, such as how much, exactly, their mother weighs. (It’s not much, I can tell you that)
But what I haven’t learned, and probably never will, is how not to miss my son. You don’t replace a child, and you especially don’t replace a son who has been a blessing for eighteen years. I’ve learned more from Courtland than he’s learned from me. But he isn’t a child anymore, and he isn’t coming back. Not permanently. Although I realize we had to let him go, his absence is like a loose tooth, or a sprained ankle. You can ignore it for a while, but it never goes away, and there isn’t any escape, because it’s part of you.
All I know for sure is that it could not possibly be this emotionally painful to flush a rodent down a toilet . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who never flushes toilets unless absolutely necessary. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org