The Son He Never Had

elk-hunting

My whole life, I felt the pressure to fulfill the role of the son my dad never had. I put that pressure on myself, of course, but I felt it nonetheless. He had me and my sister, but he was totally a man’s man. He needed someone to play catch with, so I donned my mitt. He needed someone to fish with, so I begged for a pole. I made tool belts look good, and learned how to put up a tent before I learned how to paint my nails.

Lucky for him (but really, for me) I turned out to really enjoy those things. I love playing catch. And fishing. And hunting. I used to joke and say I was the girliest tomboy to ever exist. Even as a joke, I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to it.


It was the second year we had gone hunting together. The first time I went hunting with him, I told him I had no problem shooting an elk, but I wasn’t so keen on field dressing it. He expected to hear that. I was the same way with fish. I’d catch them and cook them, but I had no interest cleaning them. He agreed to take me hunting anyway.

Just before 5:30 one particular morning, while it was dark and mysterious outside, Dad’s headlights showed up in my driveway. I grabbed my gear, all our food I had prepared, walked out the door, and we drove to our spot.

I remember sitting in the cab of the truck until it was legal for us to shoot. With the window cracked, we heard the howls and yips of coyotes. Dad was convinced they had come upon a gut pile of a successful elk hunt. I didn’t care what they had found… they sounded evil.

Before first light, we began our hike. A few switchbacks over a dusting of snow led us into the tree line, crunching through some pretty solid snowpack.

Here is where I should mention, hiking with my Dad is like hiking with an unleashed Labrador. He walks (quickly) all over the place, and in order to travel two miles, you have to walk six with his meandering. He gets on a trail of prints or scat, and he follows every. single. hoof. print. Even if you can see where it picks up a few feet away, he’ll follow it as it winds, rather than heading straight on.

If you’re not in any kind of shape, you won’t survive while hiking with him. I know this, because he almost killed me with his merciless meandering.

As the sun came up, we made it to the top of a hill where we sat under cover of some pine trees, and hoped the elk would cross the valley before us. Just as the light peeked over the horizon, we saw a coyote – most likely one we heard earlier – make his way through the clearing below. We watched for a while as he walked away, and rabbits began to appear in the valley after he had passed.

Sitting still on the hillside in the early morning cold, I started to shiver. A lot. I was wearing a few layers – thermal underwear, jeans, t-shirt, sweatshirt, sweat pants, and snow pants, all topped off with my bulky hunting coat. With no more movement, however, I started to cool off quickly.

I turned to my dad and whispered through my chatters, “D-d-d-did you kn-kn-kn-know sh-sh-shivering is your b-b-b-b-ody’s way of st-st-st-st-staying warm?”

Without taking his eyes off the valley below, and without missing a beat, Dad whispered back, “So is wearing more layers.” Steam rolled out of my mouth as I let out a silent laugh. Easy for him to say.

We made a lot of memories hunting together. I never did get my elk. For the record, I would have field dressed it…

The thrill of the hunt was enough to get me out there, but that time with Dad was worth every unfilled elk tag. I live 700 miles away from Dad now. There are no early morning hunting trips together. No fits of laughter on the hillsides. No lengthy wandering on the hot trail of the herd.

Every year during hunting season, I think about our trips up the mountain. It wasn’t warranted, but I’m glad I put the extra pressure on myself to do those “manly” things. It turns out I’m a far better cook than I am a huntress, but I wouldn’t trade those little adventures in the big woods for any kind of fancy shoes or manicures.

I do really want some elk steaks now, however…

The Truth About Being Hot-Headed

It is an hour and eight days past my bedtime. This time-change has messed me up, once again. Guess what, presidential candidates? You can get rid of daylight saving! I’m just saying…

The other night, I made a big decision. It was a hard decision, but it had to be made. As a mother, I always seek what’s best for my children. I had to bite the bullet… and cut Little Man’s hair.

Spoiler alert if you’ve never seen the movie (but seriously, where have you been hiding?). Remember in Napolean Dynamite, when Pedro sweats constantly because he has all that hair on his head? Little Man was having some serious Pedro days. If anyone or anything came within inches of his head, he would start to pour sweat. He was a radiator with those little curls. We also – well, someone, maybe once – clipped his hearing aids in his hair.

As hard a decision as it was to make, we had to cut his hair.

Curls one minute… buzz cut the next.

Actually, that’s a lie. It was curls one minute, flailing arms and screams the next several (several) minutes, a few buzzes here and there in the meantime, and then a final haircut with curls in a pile on the floor.

We tried to ease our way into it. We brought him to the bathroom, promising his favorite thing: bath. But first, we had to take care of hair. We took care of Daddy’s hair first. We let Little Man hold the clippers while they were off, and while they were on. We let him hold the #5 guard. Then, after we thought he was still happy and content with everything, we put the clippers to his head.

And all hell broke loose in our bathroom.

This right here – this is the moment captured when he was swinging open-palmed punches at me, screaming, “No way! No way!” So of course… we had to take a picture.

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I think I got most of the back of his hair done before we had to switch tactics. Hubs took over and Little Man clung to me with an absolute death grip, not letting go of my neck for anything. He went from assaulting me, to begging me in his own 22-month-old fashion, to save his life.

When Little Man’s fits continued as intensely as they had begun, Brent turned to me at one point and asked, “Is this how alien abduction stories come to be? They’re just poor recollections of first haircuts?” It was traumatic. To be sure.

After what took way longer than we ever imagined it would to cut his hair, I swept up my sweet little boy’s curls into a dustpan and threw them in the trash. He had his bath and recovered quickly from what seemed like a life-altering trauma he had experienced only moments before. He’s a tough one, this kid.

After bath and pajamas, I walked around the corner to see Little Miss, her Daddy, and there – standing on his own two feet, looking at his haircut-studly-self in the mirror and brushing his teeth with his people, Little Man. He had aged five years and now he was brushing his teeth with his curl-less head, like we had not just had Wrestlemania on the bathroom floor an hour earlier.

Seeing him there, toothbrush in mouth, and buzzed head, I started crying. My little boy…. my baby…. so grown up.

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A few days after her little brother’s ordeal, in surprising Little Miss for her birthday coming up in a few days I took her to the salon for a haircut she has been begging for, for almost a year. I didn’t dare use the buzz-clippers on her, so was willing to pay our dear stylist to do the dirty work of a bob cut.

Not only was Little Miss exceptionally excited, but she also grew up right before my very eyes. I tried to playfully talk with her on the drive home about who wouldn’t recognize her, how we could surprise Daddy with her new look, and what all her friends would say when she got on the school bus tomorrow, but as I was smiling and playing along with her imaginative possibilities, a few tears rolled down my cheek.

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These kids… they’re growing up. And there are days I pray for bedtime to come hours before it’s due. And there are days I take a really long time going to the bathroom, just so I can have a moment to myself. And there are days I bust out the “hallelujah!”s when Brent walks in the door after work. But there are also these moments when I wonder what happened to my babies, and who these smart, witty, sassy, incredibly genuine little people are who have stolen my heart.

It started out as a mission to get our son to stop sweating every time he turned around, but it ended up as yet another heart-wrenching lesson about the passage of time. Every moment matters…. because sometimes, all you get is that little moment. I don’t love that my son tried to karate chop my head, but in the next instant when he was trusting me with his life and gripping my neck like it was a life raft in the sea of electric clippers, I could have sat there holding his terrified self all night.

Earlier, when Little Miss came and snuggled with me on the sofa, curling up into my lap as tightly as she could, I was content to sit there as long as possible while her bony little buns carved canyons into my femurs.

It was so much more than just a haircut for him, or a haircut for her. These are memories being etched into our life’s journey as parents of some pretty special kids.