You’re probably expecting this to be a story about how having kids turned my life around and diverted me from some wayward path. I hope you won’t be too disappointed. Not that I haven’t ever taken some wayward paths, but that’s not what this is about. At least not entirely.
When my wife, Linda, became pregnant with Kelly, our first child, to say that I was nervous is a slight understatement: I was scared. I wanted kids, but the thought of the responsibility that accompanied bringing a new life into the world?….that kind of overwhelmed me when I thought about it too much.. I hadn’t done anything in my life to prepare me to care for a child.
Neither however was I prepared for how I was going to feel about Kelly when she arrived. It was a completely new kind of love, in both its strength and purity. It pushed everything else into the background, including my fear. Linda likes to tell the story about seeing me walk around our yard with Kelly in my arms one spring afternoon. She watched while I lowered Kelly so her nose was inside a flower that had just bloomed, and said to herself, “She’s got him!” She was right…even ater 27 years. When my son, Christopher, was born about 2 and a half years later, I was a lot less nervous. Neither did the strength of my love for him come as a surprise.
These wonderful feelings did come came at a cost, however….I now had this strong sense of being more vulnerable than ever before in my life. What if something really bad happened to one of my kids? What if I somehow lost one of them? My entire being recoiled from the thought and the fear that came with it. Eventually I realized that this fear was in direct proportion to my love for them and how much they meant to me. I couldn’t have one without the other so I would just have to learn to cope.
Unfortunately, that didn’t prevent me from doing things that were pretty stupid. Actually Linda is the official keeper of my “How Stupid Can You Be” list (with occasional contributions from both kids). I’m guessing that buying a motorcycle is pretty close to the top of that list. We live in a beautiful rural area with lots of windy back country roads with no cars, and its perfect for a motorcycle. I’d take it out early on a warm Saturday morning, and I’d e gone for an hour….just exploring. It was only 250 or 500 cc’s (I can never remember which) and I had no desire to go particularly fast. I avoided any major roads because that meant more cars….another thing I wanted to avoid. Linda wasn’t too happy about my new toy, but all she ever said when I went for a ride was, “Is the life insurance paid up?”
Somehow, however, I never got around to taking the driver’s test for my motorcycle license. I knew if I kept putting it off long enough, my luck would run out, so I finally decided to become completely “legal.” This meant I’d to practice weaving my way through a bunch of cones and do a series of figure 8’s.
I remember my first day of practice in my driveway very distinctly. Kelly, who was 5, and Chris, who was 3, were playing out front. I was in the garage debating with myself about whether I needed to wear my helmet. It was my driveway; there was no way I could hurt myself, and it was already hot out. A helmet was just going to make it hotter. I almost convinced myself until I started thinking about how Linda and I hammered away at the kids to put their helmets on before even thinking about getting on their bikes. This was not negotiable and they accepted it. I knew they’d see me …did I really want to set the example of riding without a helmet when we made such a huge issue? Reluctantly I put it on.
Doing figure 8’s at slow speed was more difficult than I anticipated. At one point I came to a stop with the bike’s front wheel off the pavement. Of course I’m too lazy to get off the bike and walk it backward; I put it in neutral and tried to back it up while still straddling the bike. But I couldn’t get the front wheel over the lip of the pavement, and then I’d have to apply the handbrake to keep it from rolling further off the driveway. I went through this process a couple of times……until the time when it rolled forward……and instead of the handbrake, I somehow managed to get it into first gear and I hit the throttle at the same time. Don’t ask….it’s a gift. But oh my God! Not only did I do a wheelie, but the bike literally flipped over backwards on top of me. My head didn’t just hit the pavement…it bounced. The backward flip drove my head into the pavement with such force…my head literally bounced. And that’s the good news because without the helmet there would have been no bounce. There would have been a “splat” like someone throwing an egg onto concrete, the shell shatters, and the contents ooze out among the shell fragments into a small puddle Without a helmet…..that would have been my head.
I managed to get the bike off me, and my kids came running when they heard me yelling. I told them to go get Mom. I don’t think they actually saw what happened…..at least I hope not. The four of us ended up at the hospital where they told me I had a broken hip. Turned out they were wrong, I had torn my left hamstring almost completely away from the thigh bone. It gave me a whole new level of respect for athletes who suffer hamstring injuries. I had to sleep downstairs for over a week because I couldn’t walk up stairs and it was a long recovery. I joke about my attempt to play “Evel Knievel” in my driveway, but it wasn’t funny at the time.
The worst thing was what it did to my kids. Seeing me hurt terrified them. They were so upset they slept in our bed with their mom for the entire time I was downstairs. I had never given a moment’s thought about the impact on them if I got seriously injured; made me feel guilty and ashamed for being so selfish. But I was lucky. Without my kids, I never would have put that helmet on, and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would not be here to write about it. We sold the motorcycle in less than a week….used the money as a down payment for a trip to Disneyworld. It was money well spent.