Once I saw the older one sauntering down the hill from school in the rain, my parent alarm started to flash.
‘Dude, where is your coat?’
‘Uhhh, I think I left it on the field.’
‘Seriously? come on bud, it’s raining, why did you leave it?’
‘Cause it wasn’t when I went to play…’
My mind flashed to all the nights in the past week I have sat up to listen to his thick throaty cough.
‘Well, I have to get to work so we have to go get it later. Lets run.’
I lead the shambling parade of the three of us as we sprint through the drizzle. Barking at the older one to keep up, and literally dragging the younger one behind me.
The coat in question is a very important piece for us. A high quality, fleece lined rain coat in orange. A gift from my Mother to him last spring, he reacted as any 7-year-old will to the gift of Clothing on his birthday, with a subdued ‘thanks.’ But as a parent, I was immediately psyched. Here was a piece of clothing that was vital in Oregon, that was more expensive then what I was going to buy him, and durable enough to be able to pass down the line to his bother. With all that in mind, it was clearly labeled inside, and presented to the older on the next rainy day of school as, the single most important thing he was bringing to and from school. Don’t take it off outside and leave it, don’t loan it out, don’t forget it in your cubby.
I can still remember wearing the cast off’s of my brothers, though it was not in extreme. Durable things like snow pants, and boots mostly. Hats and mittens were usually lost regularly, so there was always a large trunk assortment to select from. As I have discovered, pants for boys rarely get handed down till they are older because of the wild amount of damage done to them from play. Since the boys go to private school, we tend to need a constant source of new chinos. This drives me to total distraction when I do the laundry and I find myself wondering if they can go to school in December with cut-off chino shorts. I have been told by my wife that in fact the answer is ‘no.’
The morning is a total scramble. I can tell I am going to have to rush them to breakfast and then down the hill with urgency. When I look outside I can see the rain thickening up the sky, and then remember the coat.
‘damn it! You don’t have your coat!’
‘Ooooh.’ he says half frozen. ‘I bet they brought it into the gym.’
The thought of the coat being outside on the field hadn’t even crossed my mind until now.
‘Seriously?’ I look at him exasperated. I rush and find him a fleece zip up, and get them pushed out the door as the rain starts to fall on the three of us.
I vaguely remember my Mother reacting when we would loose this or that piece of clothing, though I also remember not understanding what the big deal was. I would promise to look around school, ask the bus driver, double check the various points of entry, and search the piles of outerwear in the house. Sometimes disaster was averted and the pieces were found. Other times, they would just become distant memories. Now that I am a parent in charge of clothing inventory for these boys, I understand the stress of the situation. How one rainy day can turn into weeks of a cold being passed between kids.
When I finally come across the coat, my blood starts to boil. It’s in an orange heap on the wet ground. I pick it up by the hood and carry it like a toxic sample towards home. It starts sagging down due to the triple gain in weight from the water. While relieved I have it, I am frustrated I now have to launder it, and dry it to try to get it back into wearable shape.
To this day, there is one thing that I was responsible for that I lost that still fills me with regret. But it was not clothing at all. I was in the 4th grade and was doing some sort of paper on my families genology. For this, my mother entrusted to me a single folded piece of paper with our family tree that she had sorted out while my father’s extended family were still alive to tell it. Names, long lost in time, were all carefully written down in pen. It was the only copy of this history, and I can remember her being nervous about letting me take it. I can also remember putting it on the grass in the park after school in order to play football with my friends. But mostly, I remember the look of total disappointment, not anger, but total disappointment from my Mother hearing about my carelessness. I spent time on the park searching, but it was gone, and I genuinely felt I let my Mom down. And even though I lost this, and I could tell my mother was crestfallen, I still felt her forgive me. If regret can be a powerful teacher, than forgiveness is is the school master.
The sound coming from the dryer is one of cacophony and destruction. Having JUST bought this dryer, I raced quickly to throw the door open. In my desire to rush and get this coat re-workable once again, I neglected to rummage through the pockets, who’s contents were now rolling in and denting the inside of our dryer.
Plastic bits and pieces.
Pencil nubs sharpened down.
Slips of paper with faded drawings.
And large walnut shells…
are all pulled out and piled up on the counter.
I look at this pile, this collection of trappings from a inquisitive boy. I pick up a walnut shell and look closer at it. It is a perfect half of a dark brown smooth shell and what’s more, there is moss growing inside. It looks like a miniature forest in a tiny ship. And at once I understand. This little thing was studied and lovingly collected. It was marveled at and given importance. To him, this coat was just a way to protect it, in the same way that I would hope it would protect him.
And I am reminded that the older one is older, but he’s only 7, and that it’s just a coat and not a diamond ring, or a family tree.
So its clean and dried, and waiting to to be filled with what’s really most important:
My child’s adventure.