You’re not supposed to bury your children

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Jeremy and his mom, 1977

If people were born with warranties we’d all be guaranteed a certain number of years of good to reasonable health. Untimely death by accident or an act of God would be the only exemptions.

This week my son returned home from the hospital, a week mostly spent in the ICU.

He was very sick. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say we could have lost him and they still don’t know why. Jeremy’s doctors were skilled enough to revive his failing internal organs, reduce his fever and send him home, yet vials of his blood are still being spun in small centrifuges and smeared onto slides in a lab at the CDC in Atlanta.

JT & me, Fairytale Town2
Jeremy and me, 1982

A couple of weeks from now my kid will turn 39 and while we all try to make sense of the numbers that log our own existence and constantly inform of us how much time we may have left to live, the number of years of JT’s life are completely meaningless to me. I’m his father and all my son’s birthdays are equal from my perspective. They are all scattered moments of his life, the nearly four decades of memories of him that I keep in my heart, timeless and eternal.

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Jeremy and Emily, 1997

He’s still five days old to me, five years old, the teenager, the joyful college student; the remarkable husband and father to his own son that he has grown to become.

He’s still the young man who stunned me by asking that I stand beside him as Best Man in his wedding. When I choked back the lump in my throat and stammered, “Why me instead of one of your buddies?”, he answered as if it was obvious, “Because you’re my best friend”.

For the past week I’ve tried to understand why our children’s lives, regardless of their age and ours, mean more to us than life itself. I suppose it has to do with our own survival instinct, the fierce insistence that above all else we will live forever or at least, in the end, to have mattered.

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Jeremy and his son, Tyler.

It’s a spiritual rabbit hole that I can’t enter and that’s probably a good thing.

All I know for sure is all that will ever matter to me:

My son is alive.

He’s back and getting stronger.

“… and it does the rest!”

I swear to you, this is a true story. I’m telling it with no embellishment, exactly as it happened not five minutes ago.

You think advertising isn’t effective?

It’s 6:13 on a Saturday morning. I know that precisely because I was starting my coffee maker and it has a clock on it.

Seven-year-old Isaiah appears, rubbing his eyes and telling me he sprained his groin while sleeping.

I don’t know. I didn’t ask.

A moment later he’s in our TV room as usual for a Saturday morning but instead of cartoons I hear something that sounds like an infomercial. I expect that to change to Spongebob Squarepants momentarily but it doesn’t. It’s too loud. I go into the TV room and ask him to turn it down. He does, but he still doesn’t change the channel and he is transfixed on whatever he’s watching.

“Isaiah,” I say, “why are you watching a commercial for a floor sweeper?”

“It’s a very good floor sweeper!” he explains, with a great deal of animation. “It’s very lightweight and with the Haan© steam cleaner you just add water and it does the rest!”

As the dogs are my witness.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Kids just don’t get it.

Life is difficult. It’s complicated. Kids don’t understand that.

Well, why would they? We handle all the complicated stuff for them. They just play. That’s their job and most of them do it exceedingly well. You can even say they’re experts at it. The sad thing is that we were all kids once but for some reason as we get older and the world gets more complex we think we need to find more complex ways of having fun. It usually involves a lot of money and frequently a lot of time and planning.

Now you’re thinking, “Oh, fiddle-faddle! I don’t need a fancy vacation or dinner at an expensive restaurant to have fun.” Maybe not but I’ll bet I can’t get you to giggle your way through an afternoon by playing in a cardboard box.

Forgive me for saying so but I can’t imagine you and your closest friend squealing with delight for hours while running through a sprinkler.

And I’ll bet most of us would consider planting flowers a job rather than a pleasure. Maybe both if gardening is a hobby or one of your particular adult pleasures but it is still definitely a chore.

My grandsons just don’t know how complicated life is.

Please don’t tell them. They’ll figure it out in their own time.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Surviving childhood

One of the things we aging boomers love to talk about is how much safer the world used to be when we were kids.

It was in some respects. Mostly, though, I wonder how we survived.

As kids in the 1950s and 60s we were allowed to roam our entire neighborhoods from sunup to sundown free and unfettered from fear of death or abduction. Nobody was ever snatched off the street. That possibility never even crossed our minds.

We didn’t have drive-by shootings. Hell, we didn’t have drive-thru hamburger joints. Back then if you wanted to buy a burger or shoot somebody you had to park the car and get out first.

It was a simpler, more forgiving time. But it was also a daily horror show we never imagined.

Cars didn’t have seat belts until the mid-sixties and by then they seemed silly to those of us who grew up literally bouncing between the back and front seats everywhere our parents drove us. They didn’t mind in the least as long as we didn’t start fighting.

 

We had house fans with no protective cage to keep little fingers out of the whirling steel blades. If you had invented the electric fan doesn’t a protective cage over the front just seem like a natural piece of the big picture? How did they not think of that?

I never heard of a single injury.

I could go on and on…

The heat in our homes came up from the floor through metal grates that got hot enough to sear a waffle pattern into tender toddler feet and butts.

Everybody smoked cigarettes, cigars and pipes everywhere. I mean everywhere: on buses and trains; in grocery stores, movie theaters, restaurants, churches and in every room of every home in America. That’s where this attachment to “fresh air” started, you know. Think about it. No matter where you live these days, big city or wide-open spaces, the air is no fresher outside than it is inside. But you still say, “I need some fresh air,” and then you step out of a filtered, air conditioned room into downtown San Bernardino.

Dogs ran free when we were kids.

You let the dog out of the house and he was gone, who knows where, until he came back to the porch and demanded re-entry. That might be the next day or the day after that. If he bit somebody while he was out you never knew about it. If he tangled with another dog you’d see him trot back into the house at dinner time, tongue and tail wagging happily, with one bloody ear and a mangled eyeball. You didn’t take him to the vet unless he’d been hit by a car and even then if he could hobble out of the street on two of his four legs Skippy was good to go.

We had killer toys. 

When I was a kid we would choose up sides and have wars using toy guns that were nearly as deadly as real ones. We had air-powered BB-rifles and pistols that allowed us to fire tiny steel balls with enough velocity to embed them under the skin of another kid, a dog or a cat. It stung but we loved it. This is where we first heard the sentence, “You could put an eye out with that!” Nobody ever stopped us from trying but the warning was issued occasionally and apparently it was heeded. Nobody ever lost an eye to a BB-gun assault.

If there weren’t enough BB-guns to go around, we’d just throw rocks.

Seriously, rock fights. And worse…

We had toy bows and arrows. Oh sure, the arrows had rubber cups on the end. You just took those off and whittled the wooden shaft into a pencil-sharp point.

And mind you, this was all going on shortly after World War II ended.

We had firecrackers. We made bottle rockets out of wooden match heads cautiously jammed tightly together into glass aspirin bottles. If you weren’t as careful as a brain surgeon they became instantaneous bombs, igniting in hand and shooting shards of red-hot glass dozens of feet in all directions.

I’m not making this up!

One idiot kid I remember used to lie down on the ground and have the rest of us drop a huge rock — say, the size and weight of a bowling ball — right over his face.

We weren’t very tall, maybe four feet. He’d always roll out of the way before the rock hit the ground. He never failed.

We climbed trees, great cottonwoods, scampering twenty or thirty feet above the ground. Once I fell, skinning my bare back as I slid down the trunk of that great tree, landing hard on its exposed roots. My grandma sprayed Bactine on my injuries and gave me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on Wonder white bread. I watched Popeye on TV and felt a lot better.

We jumped off the roof of my grandparents’ house with completely ineffective home-made parachutes.

One of my goofy uncles used to bounce on the roof on a pogo stick.

And we wondered why Grandpa drank.

Nobody died. We seldom cried. And now we worry about our own kids and theirs.

They missed so much.

© Copyright 2010, Dave Williams. All rights reserved.

 

“I have diabetes.”

Isaiah King, age 5, 2008

While shopping in Target the other day our five-year-old grandson, Isaiah, told his grandmother and me he needed to go to the bathroom. I took him into the men’s room and waited while he finished his business in the stall. After washing his hands we went off to find my wife.

“Nana,” Isaiah told her earnestly, “I have diabetes.”

The British have the best description of the confused look Carolann and I gave each other. We were, as they say, “at sea.”

We had no earthly idea what he was talking about.

“What do you mean?” Carolann asked.

“I had to go potty real bad,” the five-year-old explained. “I have diabetes.”

My wife and I stared at each other blankly for another moment or two until, as the Brits also say, “the penny dropped.”

“You mean you have DIARRHEA?”

Carolann said this. I was too busy trying to choke back a guffaw that was leaking out my nose as barely stifled snorts.

“Yeah. Diarrhea.”

Then, in the spirit of Art Linkletter she issued a follow-up question. “Do you know what diarrhea is?”

“Yeah. That’s when it’s all flat.”

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved