I wish parents were given a Guide Book on how to inspire their children. Heaven knows, I would have read it. Yet, kids are funny and every one of them…..unique. One never knows where or when circumstances will arise to motivate them, cause them to act, inspire them, or cause their curiosity to tweak. But when it happens, that divine moment, you can almost see it in a child’s eyes. The proverbial light bulbs flash, and their worlds reorient. Those,….. yes those…… are the very best of days.
Today, I went to go and see my Doctor, and it reminded me of this story.
Background: I live in Northwestern Mississippi, close to Memphis. We’re a bedroom community to the metro, and most of us work/go to schools in the Memphis area. Yet, this is very much a small town, wide open spaces, large farms, blue skies, and friendly (sometimes nosey) neighbors.
After the birth of my son and before I hit 40, I decided to join a gym. I wanted an awesome BOD and talked several of my girlfriends into joining the gym with me. Some stayed with it, most quit, and very often, I was the only one of my clan in the gym at 5:30am every morning. It took a while, but I ended up with a better body than I had when I was 16yrs old. Okay, fine. We had one girlfriend, however, who ate cheeseburgers and French Fries, cookies and frozen slushes, and remained a wisp of a woman. What was her secret? She finally told us, she went to a doctor in Arkansas who prescribed her “Diet Pills”.
Well, it took me two years until I finally decided to join her one day for a trip to the Doc in Arkansas. Meanwhile, Gunner was a toddler, in a church pre-school, swapping germs with other kids, and my husband and I had $1100/month pharmacy bills because we caught every disease Gunner brought home. If only the pediatrician had a frequent flyer program. For three years, we were ALL constantly sick….. and I spent untold hours in waiting rooms, patiently waiting for the Doc to give us another prescription. Sure, I was willing to try a few diet pills, but I had all kinds of questions about my family’s health for this new Doctor.
So, we made the trip…… And I cannot describe to you how beautiful it is.
I went with Deb, who has the best natural laugh – and it’s contagious. We drove for over an hour, radio blasting, windows down, wide open farm fields, white egrets and dragonflies, pecan groves and miles and miles of GREEN. We crossed the enormous Mississippi River Bridge in Helena, Arkansas……… and wheeled into the Doc’s office.
At registration, name and number, insurance info…… and I didn’t even have time to sit down before I was called.
Huh? Whut? That was fast…..
So there I am in the Doc’s examining room with my list of questions….. and in walks the Doc. We’ll call him Jeff. He’s about 10yrs younger than me, tall, handsome, well-traveled, and probably gay….. which worked out incredibly well for me and girlfriend…… cuz we could tell Jeff…… ANYTHING and he was nonplussed about it. I showed Jeff my list of questions, mostly about Gunner. Jeff looked at my list and laughed. He leaned in close to me and said, “Your child has a cold – let him have the cold. Chances are, you and husband will catch the cold. Live with the cold. Embrace the germs. AND…….Let him play in the dirt. He’s a boy.”
I thought about throwing away the pediatrician’s phone number.
Jeff asked me a few questions about the diet pills, all kinds of ailments I thought I may have, but we were done in 15 minutes. Bill was $50, when my primary at home was $125 a pop….. and I always had to wait for over an hour in a room filled with sickly people. Talk about a Doctor with Customer Service…..
Deb and I stopped at a local family run pharmacy, got our scrip’s and turned up the volume on the radio for the ride home.
Jeff has been our family primary since that day – about 20+yrs ago. The first time Big T went to see him, Big T was amazed… (And Big T is used to Boston Physicians). Don’t think I have ever waited more than 7-10 minutes in his office, and taking the drive to his office….. well, it’s like a vacation through a National Park, spectacularly beautiful.
But this is a story about kids and the moment of Divine Inspiration.
Here we go:
It was about 15yrs ago, summertime, a day like today, when the humidity hangs in the air. Gunner was probably 8yrs old. He had a buddy over for the day and they were playing hard, having a good time. I had a Doctor’s appointment that afternoon (trip to Arkansas) but the boys whined….. they didn’t want their time together to end. Soooooo, I called Scotty’s mom and asked her if I could take Scotty with me. Understand, this was the era of “beginning wokeness”, and some Moms would freak if I wanted to take their child to a Doctor’s office….. let alone across a state border. This Mom, however, had no problem, “Have a good time!”, she said. The boys were thrilled.
Now, by 8yrs old, Gunner was a road trip warrior. We went to Boston all the time, and road trips were plentiful in our family. Yet, I was unsure about the other boy, Scotty. Therefore, following “road trip” tradition, I packed a little cooler of Capri Suns, some leftover Fried Chicken, grapes, and Ziplocks of Cheese Bals/Laffy Taffy…… their favorite treats at the time.
Gunner and Scotty were in the kitchen with me while I assembled and Gunner’s eyes were glowing. That kid did love a road trip and a last minute road trip was an unexpected plus. Scotty however, was bewildered. In his family, a trip to the Doctor meant a trip around the corner……. not packing a cooler…. and it was never something which might be…. fun. Scotty was confused. Gunner flashed a smile and said, “We’re going on a field trip.” Suddenly, Scotty was excited. This was an adventure….. not just going to a buddy’s house to play for an afternoon.
And off we went…..
The boys were in the back seat. Within 5 minutes, we blew out of our little town to the wide open fields. It was a crystal clear day, blue sky like Montana. They were singing to the radio, eating everything in the cooler. Note: Always pack Ziplocks of wet washcloths in a cooler for cleanup. First, we traveled about a half hour west towards the Mississippi River. It’s a two lane road, and hilly. Up and down we went, thick trees on each side that grow over the road….. looks like Sleepy Hollow in a movie. A short jog north, then west again. We fall out of the hills into the Mississippi Delta………… and it’s flat……… where you can see forever.
The boys rolled down the windows to point at the deer herds at the tree lines and they were quite vocal about every butterfly or dragonfly or “What kind of bird is that?”. We traveled south through the Delta, and they pointed at every creek and tree along the way. By the time we reached the Mississippi River Bridge….. it is quite grand…. especially to a small boy….. I thought Scotty was going to explode. He was so excited.
Unlike other bridges, this bridge is longer. It has to encompass the bridge to also account for the land inside the levee system. So, we’re on a bridge for about a mile before the actual river.
We learned Scotty had never been out of the state of Mississippi.
He said….. and I’ll never forget it…… “This is my first vacation!!!!”
I let his words sink into the back of my head. Gunner had been all over the place, but this ‘lil trip was a big deal for Scotty.
The 15-20 minutes in Jeff’s office was a breeze. He let the boys come in, they listened to each other’s hearts with a stethoscope, and he gave them a load of “GIANT” popsicle sticks (tongue depressors) to take home. Treasures for a young boy.
But I had been thinking about what Scotty said…… a vacation….. for him…… and we had no need to be home at any certain time…… we could spend a few hours here……
I took the boys to lunch at a cool diner in downtown historic Helena where they had weird French Fries. That was fun…. but they wanted to see the Mississippi River. So we drove up to a lookout point….. and we went down to the boat ramp. Boys took off their shoes and got to put their feet in the Mississippi River. They jumped up and down trying to wave at the barges in the River. Enormous barges. I took the advantage of educating them about how BIG the River was, how many states drained into it, history of water navigation, Hernando DeSoto, Lewis and Clark…..how we built our country….. and Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer…… who would have been about their age at the time.
They halfway listened to me as they splashed to cool off. Then we walked down a long wooden bridge out to a point…. What a view….. Wow.
But from that vantage point, way out in the River, I spotted something very interesting. It was the River Pilot’s office, just south of the Bridge. If we could get in there……….. that would be a real thrill for young men.
We got back in the car. I drove and turned and turned and swayed, and finally went up a road that looked like I was heading to a gravel quarry……. but I found the River Pilot’s office. I told the boys, “They had to be on their best behavior because we weren’t supposed to be here….. “and “This was the next thing to an official military installation.” therefore, “No fooling around, you have to be serious.”
Well, the look on those faces….. 8yr old boys….. with the idea they were going into a secret… almost… military installation…. It was priceless.
I knocked on the door, gingerly. This is about how it went:
- Door opened, man about 50yrs old with a genuine Santa Belly, sternly said, “Mam, you’re not supposed to be here.”
- Me, opened palmed, non-threatening: “Sir, I have a horrible problem…..”, putting my arm around the boys.
- Man, changing his demeanor on a dime….. He was old school…. a REAL MAN from Arkansas, facing a women in need….. with two small boys….. of course he wanted to help me.
- He let us into the office…..
- At which, all the men, about 8 of them, turned towards us to see what was going on. A woman in distress, they were ready to FIX whatever problem I had. Plus, not the kind of place, one would think, that had too many visitors…. especially a woman and two boys.
- It was hot outside, but I bet it was 62 degrees in there.
- Most of us know what an air traffic control tower looks like, right? Same thing here, only shorter. HUGE glass windows on three sides, incredible view of the vast river, and a boat load of counsel equipment and computer terminals, with paneled wood on one wall, and a drip coffee pot…. straight out of the 60’s.
- So there we were, all the men swung around on their seats to see what was the matter.
- I began to explain.
- Me: You see, these two boys have been fascinated by the Mississippi River all day long. We learned about how many states drain into the river….. and I went on and on….. And that’s when I spotted your office, here. And I know it is a terrible intrusion, and we’re not “official military” or anything (which made my point with the boys to act respectful)…… But if we could just stand in the back for a little while….. so the boys could see what you do……. and I’ve threatened them with bodily harm if they say a word…… and they just want to see what you do when you direct traffic on this glorious River.
- And I let my plea hang in silence.
- I looked at the boys. They were stern and still. Straight backs. They looked like very young Marine recruits.
- The man who answered the door, Santa Belly, broke the silence: Well………. he said, “Don’t stand in the back. You can’t see anything way over there. Come on over here, young man…..
- OMG, we were in…..
The next hour was sheer joy for those two boys and me.
At 8yrs old, most boys play with toy boats or trucks. This was big stuff and it was REAL. They were overwhelmed and wide-eyed…….. but I was quite pleased they were so respectful of the men. Lots of “Yes Sirs” coming out of their mouths.
They got to push buttons on the counsels, with proper instruction, of course. I thought the boys would combust when the men let them push down on the microphone and talk to Barge Pilots on the River from Ohio and New Orleans, etc. and the commerce they were hauling….. all kinds of things, and the Captains blew their horns and waved at them…..What a thrill. I imagine those older men saw themselves as young boys once again. The boys learned ALL ABOUT the River that day….It was a crash course in river navigation, flood levels, levees and snow melt, etc. The men gave them old maps of the river…. which hung in Gunner’s bedroom until he went to college.
It was an incredible day ……of a …… vacation.
I stopped at a gas station on the Arkansas side of the River and bought both boys a cheap trinket dish with the State of Arkansas logo on it. I mean, they had to have a souvenir, right?
And we drove home across two lane roads and wide open fields….. They were almost sad as we pulled in the driveway.
Scotty’s Mom picked him up about an hour later. Scotty declared flatly, “We went on vacation.” as he carried his map, tongue depressors and trinket dish to the car.
That was about 15yrs ago…..
We didn’t see much of Scotty after that. His parents separated and both moved away. Gunner missed his friend, but as boys do, he moved on.
I always wondered what happened to Scotty………. until last night. I ran into his mother at WalMart. We hugged like long lost friends (even though I didn’t know her well at all) and caught up on life happenings over the past decade plus. She told me about the divorce, health problems, new husband and we talked and talked….. but then she became serious.
She told me about Scotty…..
…….Who just graduated from the Webb Institute, dual BS in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. She blubbered she was so happy. Then, she told me…….. his entrance essay to the exclusive school……… and a full ride scholarship….. was all about the day we spent on the Mississippi River………. and the time spent in the River Pilot’s Office.
That day was Scotty’s divine moment, and his world changed.
His mother was emphatic about it….. I never knew.
Scotty never let it go. She told me Scotty also kept the map of the river on his bedroom walls for years.
I have a feeling there might be a river or an ocean in Scotty’s future. I thought about the time I slide my arm around his shoulder, trying to smuggle him into the River Pilot’s office….. and imagined him today, over 6′ tall. Scotty will travel far from the State of Mississippi….. but he’s still our boy.
Divine inspiration….. you never know when it will hit.
Maybe …. more often…… we should take the long way home when we’re with our kids.