“You know that brush is wet, right?” my wife asks.
I don’t. Not till then. I smear the blue against my jeans, thinking that if I had bought them at the store like that, it would have set me back about a hundred dollars.
“Is he sure he wants to do this?” I ask.
“He said he did,” she answers.
“Do you believe him?”
She pauses then says, “I don’t want to.”
“Me neither,” I say, “but it’s his room, right?”
Another pause. Then: “Right.”
We had painted the Winnie the Pooh mural when our daughter was born, and she had slept beneath it for two years until she had to move out to make room for our son. But at five, he thinks Winnie the Pooh is for kids. And he is no longer a kid. My task today is to erase it. To paint over it and cover it up with pictures of Derek Jeter and Lou Gehrig.
I do not want to do this.
So this morning I painted the trim, the doors, and the other three walls, trying to postpone the inevitable. But with everything else done, the inevitable is here.
It’s just a stupid wall, I tell myself. But it’s not, and I know that. This is a symbol. A memory of the fear and joy of becoming a parent for the first time.
You battle the passage of time with your children. You fight to keep them small and innocent and on your lap. And even if you know they will soon be big and experienced and on their own, you fight anyway.
Painting over this feels like surrender. And I’m not quite ready to wave the white flag.
My eyes gaze around his room, and I catch myself wondering how much longer my son will be in it. He’ll start kindergarten next year. No doubt it’ll seem as if he’ll start high school the year after that, graduate from college the year after that, and the year after that I’ll be holding my grandchildren.
Somewhere in between, my son will realize something. He’ll find the truth about his old man. He’ll discover that I’m really not the superhero cowboy he thinks I am. That I might be tough on the outside, but I’m pretty soft on the inside. That I can’t fix everything, don’t know anything, and fret over a lot more than I let on.
He’ll have his own life with his own family. I’ll have to let him go so he can find his own way.
Such is the constant churning of life, ever forward and never backward. And though we plant our shoulders to the gears of our days and beg them to stop, they roll on anyway.
But just as I am ready to surrender after all, I spot something on my son’s dresser that makes me smile. Sitting there beside his Lightning McQueen lamp is my father’s wallet, left by him just a few hours ago. My normally steady hand seems to disappear whenever I’m painting trim, so I had called him for a little help.
And he answered. Just like he always has.
My thirty-seventh birthday is a little more than a month away. A lot has changed in my life since I was my son’s age. A lot hasn’t, too.
Still, after all these years, my father is there for me. There to help me fix the truck or cut some wood or tend the garden. There for advice or wisdom or to shoot the breeze.
The fact that I have my own life and my own family, the fact that I’ve found my own way, hasn’t changed everything. Time doesn’t always break our bonds. Sometimes it grows them deeper.
I move from my son’s bed to the tray of paint next to the wall, pick up the roller, and begin. Gone is the leafy tree, pouty Eeyore, Piglet, and Tigger. Gone is Christopher Robin and the unknown book he’s entertained his friends with for over seven years. And then, finally, Pooh is gone, too.
And that’s okay. Because as I paint I have in my mind a far-away picture of another man’s house and another child’s dresser. And I think of that man sitting upon the edge of that child’s bed, staring at my wallet.