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The Second One That Got Away
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 • Posted August 24, 2011

People used to ask me, when my wife was expecting, whether I wanted a boy or a girl. It was a silly question, as if I had a choice. You take what you get. So I would always say I wanted a baby. I thought it was funny at the time. But I always got what I wanted.Our middle son, Paden, was born with club feet. His feet were turned in so badly the soles pointed up instead of down. We were told it could be corrected so he could walk, but that he would never play any sports. Which was fine with us. We just wanted a healthy child.Everyone wants their children to be healthy and happy. When a kid is born with a problem the parents worry, and wish the problem would go away. They pray, and hope things will turn out all right. They often become overprotective. It can be a strain, but it can also pull the family together.The doctors tried to correct Paden’s feet with casts, but he didn’t like them, and we started calling him Houdini, because he often slipped the casts off, sometimes before we got him home from the doctor’s office. So they tried braces, which didn’t do much good, either.About one child in a thousand is born with club feet. Of those, about one in a thousand has to have surgery to correct the problem. Of those, about one in a thousand has to have surgery again. I’ve never bought a lottery ticket, but if I did, I would get Paden to pick it for me.He had surgery on his feet when he was eight months old, and he was walking about four months later. When he was two and a half he had to have surgery again, and he had casts on both legs from his toes to his hips. The doctor said he would be able to crawl and drag the casts around.Within a week he was pulling up on furniture and walking on the casts, balancing on the tips. He chased his brother all over, and wore the ends of the casts off, so we had to have more fiberglass added. When we took him back a month after his surgery, to have his casts changed, the nurses said they’d never seen a kid walk in those casts before.It wasn’t without cost, though. Paden often grimaced when he was stumping around, looking like a hockey goalie. Sometimes blood would run out the toes of the casts. He had three steel pins in each foot, and since the casts weren’t designed to be walked in, the pins moved and tore and ground in there. One ended up sticking out the toe of the cast, and I had to pull it out.But he wouldn’t quit walking. If you look up ‘stubborn’ in the dictionary, I suspect you’ll find a picture of Paden.We forgot to tell him he couldn’t play any sports, so he played peewee league baseball, and when he was in jr. high he wanted to play football. The problem was cleats. His feet are not shaped normally, and no one makes cleats to fit him. Any shoes are a problem, but cleats are impossible.My wife called everywhere to try to find cleats, and once even tried our doctor. He said, “That boy doesn’t need cleats. He can’t play football.”She said, “You tell him then.”Paden played football. He became a starter on the JV team his sophmore year. And he played other sports, including state level tennis all four years in high school.Last week Paden left with his older brother for college. They’ll both attend Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas this fall, Courtland as a junior, Paden as a freshman. This was supposed to be easier this time around, but it’s not. I guess letting go of your children is never easy, but it’s probably easier than holding on too long.Children, the bible tells us, are a blessing from God. Those blessings seem a little vague sometimes, while the kids are still living at home, emptying the refrigerator, hogging the TV remote, and leaving piles of dirty clothes on the floor. None of those things seems very important once the kids are gone. Blessings, I suppose, are sometimes impermanent.Before Paden was born, when people asked me what I wanted, I could have told them I wanted a child that would do whatever it took to reach his goals, who would not give up on his dreams, no matter the price, who would teach me more than I would teach him, who would excel at whatever he tried, who would make me more proud than I thought I could be. I could have said I wanted a baby that would grow up overcoming problems and encouraging others to do the same, and making life better for those around him. I could have asked for a kid that would brighten my life, and make me wish I’d had another ten like him. I could have asked for a boy that would have the heart I wish I had.When you have kids, you take what you get. I didn’t ask for any of those things, but I got them all, and more. And now that Paden’s gone I realize what a blessing he’s been . . .Kendal Hemphill is an oudoor humor columnist and public speaker. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or jeep@verizon.net

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