We had been in a Wal-Mart store for a while, and Courtland was tired of walking. He was about five years old, and still had to be carried sometimes, so I picked him up and hauled him around the store, trying to encourage my wife to leave a few items on the shelves for someone else.
It didn’t take long for me to get tired of that, and I started looking for a place to sit down for a while. I told Courtland I needed to rest, and he asked why. I said, “I’m tired of carrying you around. You’re killing me.”
We were passing the pharmacy section, and I saw one of those blood pressure monitors mounted on a chair, so I sat down there and, to make things legitimate, I stuck my arm in the sleeve and hit the start button.
Courtland asked what it was, and I told him it would check my heart and see how healthy I was. When the machine was done it beeped, and I looked at the result, which was pretty much normal. Courtland looked up at me, very serious, and said, “Am I . . . killing you?”
Sometimes, during the past eighteen years, I have said and done things that would indicate that my three boys were a lot of trouble, a drain on my money, time, and general well being. I’ve joked about changing diapers, cleaning up messes, and having to replace broken appliances. I’ve complained about all the trouble it is to raise children. And if I could, I would make Courtland go back and be a year old again, and go through the whole process one more time.
Erma Bombeck said once that raising kids was an endless task. You wipe noses, pick up toys, mop up spills, and clean cereal off the ceiling. You haul them around to school, scout meetings, sports practices, school functions, and birthday parties. You have to find clothes they will wear and food they will eat. You host slumber parties that don’t involve slumber, and put up with crayons melted into the seats of your car and Silly Putty hidden in your shoes. When they start driving you sit up late at night worrying about them. And if you’re lucky, for all that trouble, you might get a hug and a thank you once or twice.
All in all, not a bad trade.
Courtland starts college this week in Arkansas. His brothers haven’t seemed to notice, yet, that he’s gone. His mother and I haven’t managed to accept, yet, that he’s gone. Every time we start to go somewhere as a family we look for him. We’re used to counting to three, and now we only have to count to two.
I started going through some old pictures on my computer, from past trips with the boys. I sent Courtland a few of them, I guess to try to make him homesick or something. One showed him standing by the road on top of Engineer Pass in Colorado. One was of him and his brothers leaning on a sign at Black Gap Wildlife Management Area in South Texas. Another was of me and all three boys, right before we got in our boats to float Santa Elena Canyon on the Rio Grande. One showed Courtland with Bridal Veil Falls behind him, in Yosemite National Park.
When we planned those trips, and others, it was always hard to work out the details. Arranging time away from home, juggling obligations, and coming up with money was always difficult. Now I wonder why we didn’t go more places, do more things, spend more time together. Now, those hunting, fishing, and camping trips are the most important memories I have, and I wish I had more.
We went with Courtland to get him settled in his dorm at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas last Thursday. We met his roommate, a kid from Ft. Worth whose hair was dyed a bright, banana yellow, and whose mother insisted on rearranging the furniture, hanging curtains, and making her son’s bed before she would leave. I started to ask her who was going to take the boy to the bathroom while she was gone, but refrained.
Most of the day was spent buying books, arranging financial aid, and getting Courtland’s school ID issued. Plus we had to go to Wal-Mart for some incidentals he had forgotten.
While in Wal-Mart, I passed through the pharmacy section and saw one of those blood pressure monitors mounted on a chair, and thought about the little boy who wanted to be carried, but was worried that he might be killing me. He was a few rows over, buying shaving cream and razors. He probably wouldn’t let me carry him now, anyway.
They say you can’t go back, and I’m sure that’s a good thing. But if anyone out there has a five-year-old boy, and you’re walking around Wal-Mart tired of packing him around, look for me. I’ll carry him for a while . . .
Kendal Hemphill is a lonely outdoor humor columnist and public speaker. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org