I carried him until he was seven. There he’d be, a regular appendage, content and strapped on my back. Folks would say that before too long his feet would be touching the ground behind me and I could just kick back and let him carry me.
You see, I didn’t want to slow down, but I didn’t want to leave him behind. Carrying him was my compromise.
And I wanted him to have what I missed. The things I would have liked. Not that I was neglected. But I was rushed. The last of four kids, growing up and moving on was something expected of me before I was usually ready. Not a big trauma by any means, but it left an impression. Enough so that I decide I wanted my child to be able to take his time growing up. At his own pace, without rush or pressure. To know comfort was always there if he needed it, a place to fall back on, and then when he was truly ready, the foundation solid, he’d have what it takes to step forward with confidence.
At least that was my theory. You can’t say I didn’t try. Any although it’s easy to see some of the things I did give him that others didn’t have, like horses, wildlife, quiet time, and home baked bread, you also can easily see what he missed. After school sports, birthday parties, Friday night dates, riding his bike to the corner store, and going to the mall or movies.
I think now, as his childhood comes to a close, he does not feel terribly lacking. If you look at him now, would you say he missed out? Would you notice him to be any different?
I’ve been back and forth for years worrying about the things he missed out on, the things I deprived him of. Ultimately I believed he’d be ok. That this unusual upbringing would shape him in a most positive way. That the things he missed would not outweigh those special things he had that others did not. Snowmobiling for his afternoon break. A summer job alongside his parents. Time talking, thinking, listening to the wind. Fresh eggs from the chickens he raised.
And the question so many have asked me. Growing up in a wild land without fences or boundaries to contain him, why didn’t he get in trouble more? He learned to keep a level head. I don’t know if that’s something you can teach or if it’s something you just figure out. In any case, he got it.
My theory on this was that raising a kid is kind of like keeping a dog on a leash all the time. They’ll never learn where they belong if they are not give the chance to figure it out, make a few mistakes, and find where they want to be. For the most part. You can’t let them run crazy and into the street. But you got to have some trust. I think a good deal of what he learned was because of his observing nature. He learned from seeing foolish mistakes of others, bad choices by the unprepared tourists we’ve had to rescue more than a few times. He learned how many traumas and dramas can be avoided with common sense, and careful planning, preparation and action. And yes, I always trusted him. He had to deal with his own guilt if (and when) he messed that part up. He didn’t often.
But I think one of the biggest reasons for why he might not feel like he missed out too much was because of Bob. Were it not for Bob, it would be different. He’d have missed out on the lighter side of life, stale humor, goofy actions, dirty jokes, and wild rides. Remember, he got the two-for-one deal. Brother and father in one. And best friend. Added bonus.
There they are now, far from this mountain, kicking back in two separate beds in some hotel room eating hot wings and pizza they had delivered for dinner, and watching Ice Road Truckers, Pawn Stars, or Mythbusters on TV. And this is how Forrest’s future unfolds and begins.
I’m actually quite intrigued by what is put on TV. And what people chose to watch. And after twenty something years of living without it, I don’t miss it one tiny bit.
But it’s deeper than that. They aren’t there for the TV, per se, but for looking at a college that I think is going to lure him in for next four years of his life, and open his horizons far beyond the beauty of the mountain and security of home. And I’m proud of him.
Me, I’m back home with the horses, chickens, cats and dog, awaiting news that probably won’t come until they’re home and relaxing and sitting down, then begin unfolding their tales like wings on a dragonfly, so delicate and fine with each tender vein carefully revealed in the light.
Ah, storytelling. What a pleasure! The exquisite delight of sharing tales that speaks wonders for why we don’t have TV.
They won’t waste such stories for e-mail or text messages. Though I sort of wish they would. I’d like to know more.
My boys. I suppose I should call them men now. Men of few words. Leave me hanging, guessing, wondering what they’re up to.
Bob tells me, “You’ve always said take care of each other. That’s what we do.”
So there they are, in a distant corner of the country, over a thousand miles away, deciding my son’s future, and I’m here, far away and can’t help or be involved or do anything about it.
And you know what?
And at the same time, I smile and cry.
My little boy has grown up.