“Don’t forget to keep drinking water. Remember your sunscreen. And if you start feeling a little sick, tell the nurse. Don’t keep yourself working and make yourself sick,” I cautioned my 16-year-old son as I dropped him off for work at dawn this morning.
“I know,” is the answer I’m given. I’m “that” mom who insists on buying 100 SPF spray-on sunscreen to make sure he has adequate sun protection before working several hours in a corn field in record-breaking heat.
You don’t get how hard it is to see your kids do hard things until they do them. You know you have to let them go, but it feels like you’re sending your heart into an oven to toast on a hot summer’s day.
As I returned home, I remembered my first hard job – as a newspaper carrier when I was 10 years old. We lived in small-town America, population 6,000, and my brother and I delivered papers on the Main Street business routes after school, on Saturdays, and during the summer. And during the winters of 1978 and 1979, including the 1978 blizzard.
I was 12 years old during the 1978 blizzard, and newspaper printing did not stop because of snow. The day before the blizzard hit, the headline said something like “100% Snow.” We rushed to get papers delivered and buckle down for the pending storm. The next morning, we were covered. The radio announced school was cancelled indefinitely.
Newspapers were soon to resume – I don’t think we missed a day but I’m not sure – and I continued on my paper route, walking a mile to the newspaper office, walking the route, and then walking home. Main Street was cleared with a narrow lane for cars in each direction, and huge snow drifts in the middle and sides. Local store owners dug curb cuts for pedestrians. On my route, I would deliver a few papers to stores and warm myself often before venturing back outside. In good weather, the route took about an hour. During the storms, it took much longer.
My favorite part of the whole adventure was that we missed a month of school, and I had left my French horn mouthpiece at school. So for a whole month, I had no homework and didn’t have to practice French horn. But it was still a tough month of survival, with a daily newspaper route gauntlet.
Now, as I dodder on the back side of middle age, I see that that paper route was a character building event that instilled a work ethic in me. Part of me suspects that sweating in those cornfields, for the second summer of record-breaking heat, will do the same for my own son.
Doesn’t make it any easier to watch him go. As I see him leave for the fields, riding away with his work crew, I watch them drive out of sight as I fervently pray for their safety, seeking communion of the saints and asking all the angels in heaven to watch over them and guard their safety for the day.
My last words to him as he left were, “You know I’ll be praying for you all day.” He doesn’t quite nod recognition.
But I realize that those are the words that will define the rest of my life as a parent, in this world and beyond.