Looking back, it seems obvious that Owen, 8, would be the one who chose not to tell me that our friends Morgan and Lincoln were in the driveway loading Dustin’s new kayak onto the roof of the minivan.
(Note: There is an old literary rule that says that any story beginning with a kayak being loaded onto the top of a car is bound to end with one falling off.)
I was inside making lunch. Dustin was at work. According to Ford, who also was in the driveway, he told Owen to tell me that our friends had arrived. But when Owen came inside, he didn’t mention it, not even after I said, “Is Dad here yet?” which would have been the perfect opportunity for him to say, “No, but Miss Morgan is.”
Owen is a peacekeeper. A mediator. He wishes nothing more than to quietly go about his business with as little fanfare as possible. As a baby, he was a late walker and talker. The doctors did all sorts of tests, checking for abnormalities. Then one day, we were sitting on the floor of our living room in Pensacola, Fla., when Owen, then 2 years old, stood up and reached out his right foot.
“Look, he’s taking his first step!” I screamed.
Dustin looked up from the newspaper. Owen, who up until this point had relied solely on the Army crawl to get from Point A to Point B, walked three steps — and then he broke into a run.
“My God, is he going to do laps around the couch now?” Dustin asked.
Years later, Owen also was a late bike-rider. He simply had no interest in learning. I had accepted the possibility of eventually having a teenager who could not ride a bike. Then, I was blow-drying my hair when Owen came upstairs and said, “When you’re done, come outside and see me ride my bike.”
Sure enough, he was speeding up and down the street on the miniature bicycle we had bought for him when he was 5.
So, it makes sense that Owen is naturally and effortlessly forgiving of others’ faults and slow starts. He is not one to point out someone else’s mistakes.
Ford, 10, on the other hand, is sort of like our in-house, not-appointed fact-checker. You don’t want to make a mistake in front of Ford who always had trouble in preschool because he corrected the teachers’ spelling.
But back to the kayak. By the time I had made our lunches and come outside, Morgan and Lincoln already had strapped the new, yellow kayak, like a ripe banana, to the top of our minivan. We were ready for a day of fun on the lake.
When we got on the highway, the wind caught the straps securing the kayak to the rack. They hummed and buzzed with the car’s speed and acceleration. The noise grew so loud that eventually Ford and I had to scream to talk to each other. (Owen doesn’t talk much in the car.)
“That wind noise is pretty annoying, huh?” I yelled over my shoulder.
“Yeah, but it’s nothing like when we rode with Dad to return a kayak to Prospect Harbor,” Ford yelled back.
“A lot of wind noise then, too?” I asked.
“Not so much wind noise,” he said. “Mostly, we couldn’t talk over the scraping sound on the roof. The kayak was sliding to the left and right.” Ford motioned with his hands. “And then, at one point, the kayak slid down the windshield so far that I couldn’t see out my side.”
This was the first I had heard about Dustin’s trip with the kids and the kayak. But it reminded me of the time Dustin took the kids to the wrong fast-food restaurant for their own birthday party, and of the time he left the car in drive before getting out, and I watched him chase it down the street. In all cases, Owen’s lips were sealed. Unlike the rest of us, he would never speak a word of his dad’s Chevy Chase moments.
Ford continued: “And how many straps are on this kayak? Two? I think Dad used like 10, and still that kayak blew back and forth, scraping the top of the car.”
I looked at Owen in the rearview mirror. He looked apologetic as he nodded and said, “It’s all true, Mom.” Then he graciously added: “We have a really fun dad, don’t we?” And: “But let’s not say anything to him about it, or he might feel bad.”
I had to agree, on all accounts. Dustin is one of the smartest people I know, and yet he can’t remember to put the filter in the coffeepot before he fills it with water. He likes to say I make his life “less boring,” but the feeling is definitely mutual.
Still, the moral here is clear: If in doubt (of anything from your abilities to your equipment), bring Owen, not Ford.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.