Sunday, May 9, 2010

The yellow hat

A few days ago the boys and I decided to take a short walk out to the eastern slough. The banks of the slough are very high, filled by snow melt and spring rain. Along the way Graham told me that when Aunt Kathy had last visited us, they had taken a walk down to the slough. Aunt Kathy wouldn’t let them get too close because there might be ‘quicksand.’ I agreed, deciding that a little deception in the name of safety was a good idea. The muddy plowed dirt around the water’s edge would quickly trap a child’s small foot.

Graham was wearing a thin plastic helmet, a souvenir he had received at a recent school field trip to the local fire station. He had been wearing the hat fairly nonstop for the last two days. Graham with his yellow hat skipped his way toward the banks of the slough, diligently slowing down as he approached the edge. When he got about ten feet away, he stopped. And just as he stopped, a gust of wind pulled the cap off his head and sent it tumbling toward the slough, over its banks, rolling and skipping across the water, finally coming to a rest about twenty feet out.

I watched the hat roll and skip, and said ‘bye bye hat’ hoping to make light of the event. I had a split second to wonder how Graham would react. With Graham, it’s not always easy to tell—sometimes he can be nonchalant about serious things, but at other times he can be very sensitive about small stuff. I hoped for the former.

It was the latter.

As soon as the hat whipped off Graham’s head his arms reached up to catch it. He watched it roll away and land in the slough. He started to yell, ‘my hat!’ and then stood in shock. Realization hit him hard and fast. His hat was gone, and he couldn’t get it back. Or could he?

He started to walk toward the mud. I told him to stop. He stopped, but started to yell louder. And cry. I assessed the water, seeing how deep it was, seeing if I could walk out there myself to retrieve the hat. Possibly, I decided, but not without my mud boots. I asked Owen to run back to the house to get them. Owen sped off.

‘I’m going to get it.’ Graham said with frantic determination and again stepped toward the mud.

‘No.’ I said firmly. ‘Remember the quicksand?’ He immediately stopped. By this time Benjamin had caught on and was starting to cry too. ‘No!’ He yelled at Graham. ‘Don’t go in!’

‘I should never have worn my hat. My favorite hat!’ Graham wailed, falling to his knees on the dirt. His wails became desperate screams. I found myself starting to laugh silently. Oh, the woes that a six-year-old must live through. ‘It’ll be okay, Graham.’ I said, trying to console him.

As I waited for Owen to bring the boots, and listened to my children mourn a small plastic hat, my mind sought a source of empathy. And readily found it, in the memory of my old radio. The radio I had as a child, with AM/FM, one tape deck, one speaker and a long antenna. I loved that radio. I listened to music every day after school, taping my favorite songs from the radio onto tape, and then replaying the tapes one after another.

One day my younger sister wanted to use the radio. I refused. My mother made me give it to her. When she returned it to me, the antenna was broken. It was a heartrending moment for me. My favorite radio was broken. And nobody else seemed to care. It still got reception, but now the songs were full of static. What hurt me more than anything was the feeling that somehow I had betrayed my toy. It was mine, and I had allowed it to be broken. I know it doesn’t make sense, but that’s what I felt. And there was nothing I could do to fix it. It would never be the way it was.

This was that moment for Graham. Nothing he could do would get his hat back. Owen came with the boots. I looked at them and then at the water, trying to decide if I could wade out there. Benjamin saw what I was considering and began screaming anew. ‘No! Mommy, don’t go out there!’ He put his little body in between me and the water and held me back. ‘No! No! I don’t want you to go out there! I don’t want anybody to go out there!’

Graham stood up and turned to me, choking back his tears. ‘Mom, it’s okay, you don’t have to go get it.’

I realized how much it took for him to say that, in the depths of his pain. ‘Oh Graham, I love you.’ I said. I knew I couldn’t go out there, even if Benjamin had not been blocking me. The hat was twenty feet out, and the water looked to be about two feet deep. Add a foot of mud underneath that and there was no way I was going in.

The hat, which had been resting on the surface of the slough, began to sink. ‘It’s sinking! It’s sinking!’ Graham’s screeched. His wails grew to a fevered pitch. We watched the hat go down and settle on the bottom. We could still see its yellow shape under the water.

I latched on to an idea, a small glimmer of hope. ‘Listen. I have a plan. You see, right now the water is very deep and very high. But later this summer, the water will go down. When it goes down, we might be able to walk out and get the hat.’

Graham considered this between sobs. ‘When will it go down? Tomorrow?’

‘No, it won’t be for a couple of months. Maybe in July or August.’

‘But I want my hat now!’

‘I know you do. But we can’t get it right now. We have to wait a few months, til the water goes down.’

Owen chipped in. ‘Yeah! In the summer, the water dries up, and Mom will be able to walk out and get the hat.’ I gave Owen a grateful smile.

Graham’s crying subsided a bit, but I could tell he wasn’t satisfied. He still wanted his hat back, now. He stared at it in the slough, under the water. ‘What if it sinks forever?’

‘It won’t. It’s not going to sink any more; it’s resting on the bottom. It’ll stay there until we come back in the summer.’

After a minute or two, Graham seemed to resign himself. ‘Okay.’

I herded the kids away from the slough, starting them back toward the house. As we walked back Graham’s laments continued. We reached the house and went inside, and Graham and I settled down on the couch to recover. His face was damp from tears, his eyes red and puffy from crying.

All through that experience, I was torn. Part of me would have given anything to get that hat back for him, to ease his raw pain, to see the pure joy on his face when I placed the hat back in his hands. Another part of me knew that this would be an important lesson for my six-year-old son. There are just some things that can’t be fixed, some hats that can’t be reached, no matter how hard you want them to be.

All of this happened four days ago. I’m happy to say that Graham seems recovered now, and only once or twice has asked about the hat. He wants to make sure that we don’t forget it, that we remember to go back out there in July. I will try my hardest. And if I don’t remember, Graham will. He will remember that yellow hat for a long, long time.


Lucky Lizard Ranch said...

Very poignant story, thank you for sharing it!
Happy Mother's Day!

Erin said...

I have tears! What a wonderful story, wonderful mom, and wonderful kids, you should be very proud of your whole clan, including you - I would hate to think of you stuck out there having to get airlifted out of the quicksand, lol!! Happy Mother's Day!

Mama Pea said...

What a wonderful story to have written down for posterity. Think of Graham reading it to his children someday. For each of you, the boys and you, it will being back many memories, not just of that day, but of you and their childhood.

Thistledog said...

Oh, I liked that story, Jo, and you told it so well. Felt like being right there with you and the boys and that torn feeling was so familiar... a life lesson for all of us in there.

Kathy said...

I'm glad I could provide you with that life lesson. See, it helped you to become a better and more empathetic mother. You're welcome.

Karen said...

Oh my gosh, Fan, I laughed and cried equally! You are such an amazing storyteller! I may have gotten the "clean" gene, but you have all of the "writing" genes!!! I just love your stories! I'll trade you genes! Leave it to Kathy to provide you with such a life lesson! I missed so many of those special (!) moments by moving out when I did! Your boys are such a treasure!!!

Maple Lawn Farm said...

Being a momma can be so hard. We don't ever want our kids to be sad. What a sweet story and what precious boys you have.

Amanda J said...

I don't even know you but I am sitting here crying. It was such a good story and you are so right about life lessons. My son and his girlfriend just broke up and I would love to make the hurt go away. Thanks for sharing!

Jo said...

Hello Liz -- Happy belated Mother's Day to you too!

Hi Erin! Yes, the idea of me being stuck out in the mud did cross my mind! We'd have to call a farmer with a tractor/winch to pull me out!

Hey Mama Pea -- Just like naked baby pictures, I can show these stories to my boy's future fiances. Good for a red face and a laugh!

Hi Thistledog -- Thanks for the nice comment. Just yesterday Graham asked about the hat and whether it was still there. First time in about ten days!

Hey Kathy -- Yes, I owe many 'character building' moments from my childhood to you. Nothing like a younger sister to provide you plenty of 'life lessons.' :)

Hi Karen -- I'm stilling willing to trade a day of writing for a day of cleaning. Or just trade the genes for one day a week. Yes, Kathy was a wonderful teacher when we were growing up. I'm sure I was never that way with you, though. ;)

Hello Tammy! Yes, motherhood does have it's moments! All good ones, though. Every moment of every day is on-the-job training.

Hi Amanda -- Happy to meet you! Thanks for reading my blog. I visited your blog today too - you have a very busy life! But a very positive attitude too. Good luck to your son. Teenage emotions are a rollercoaster ride, I remember them (mine) well!