Polar Bear has natural mechanical aptitude. He showed this leaning when he was very young and we have sought to encourage it. As a little guy, he was taken to the free kids’ workshops that the hardware stores in our area offer. Hubby and I allowed him to assemble furniture when we purchased it, with supervision and assistance as needed. We encourage him to look at problems with an eye for a solution, and if one solution doesn’t work to seek advice and persevere until he finds one that does. This spring he plans to build a sand box big enough for 6 children with a cat-proof cover.
For years, we talked about my dad teaching Polar Bear car and home repair, simple carpentry, and other handy-man skills. The goals were for Polar Bear to be able to take care of most house and vehicle maintenance or repairs and for him to explore his talents to see where they would lead. We knew Dad and Polar Bear would both enjoy it. It was a great plan that would not just teach Polar Bear to be self-sufficient in those areas, but also would strengthen that grandchild-grandparent bond that is beneficial to both generations. What a great way to do shop class.
Even as Dad got sick, we all thought he would get around to it when he felt better. There were days Dad felt better, but never well enough for long enough that we could make plans for Ethan to spend time with him to learn any of these things. The distance between our homes is too great for us to go down there very often, and Dad was always too tired to make the trip to our house. So, those plans never came to fruition.
This was all running through my head one morning. Hubby, Polar Bear and I were at the kitchen table trying to figure out how to get a baby gate up in our living room. The opening is wide, requiring a specially ordered gate with a bracket that anchors at the corner of the floor and the wall. Previously we had to install a newel post in our living room to make that work. We had hardwood floor installed recently and now we have to accommodate quarter round at the floor on both sides. We just needed to make a quarter round cut in the bottom of the newel post in order to anchor the newel post to the wall. Not a big deal, really, assuming you have the tools and experience. We have neither.
Suddenly, I missed my dad. Five years ago we would have called him up, planned to go down the next weekend and he would have taken care of it. Polar Bear would have had a lesson in simple carpentry and the problem would have been delightfully solved. It hit me then, not only could we no longer call Dad for advice on everything from repairing a weed whipper to purchasing a car, but he wasn’t going to be around to teach Polar Bear or any of our children all these good things.
The past two and a half months have been full of gut punches like this. I’m getting better at dealing with them. I took a second to breathe so that I didn’t turn into a sobbing mess. Then I asked Polar Bear what he thought of working with Mr. B., our neighbor across the street, to learn some handy-man skills. Polar Bear has helped him with a few projects in the past. I trust this man. Mr. B is honest, thoughtful and has a gentle manner about him. He works with purpose and doesn’t take unnecessary risks. These are all traits I would like to see Polar Bear emulate. I also know that Mr. B. really enjoys spending time with my children and has abundant patience with them. Polar Bear agreed that they would both enjoy working together. I asked Polar Bear if he felt comfortable approaching Mr. B. I was willing to go across and talk to him about it, but it would be better coming from Polar Bear. He agreed and, after the obligatory reminders to hold still and maintain eye contact, off he went.
Polar Bear returned with an excited smile. Not only did Mr. B. think it was a great idea, but he was going to be working on his truck that afternoon. Polar Bear has gone across the street just about every week since. Together he and Mr. B. have begun to dismantle a truck for parts, shoveled a neighbor’s driveway, upgraded an outlet to handle powerful work lights, and concocted plans for a backyard climbing wall.
This was supposed to be a special thing between Polar Bear and Dad and seeing someone else step into those shoes is bittersweet. That wasn’t the plan and we can’t help but mark it as one more thing lost to leukemia. Slowly, the bittersweet feelings about this new plan are being replaced with gratitude that Polar Bear is getting exactly the kind of education that my dad would have given him, complete with that flair for the creative that I loved about my dad. Dad was always proud of this firstborn grandchild of his who is so much like him. If he could see Polar Bear with his hands covered in grease, clothes dirty, but walking a little taller with a huge grin on his face, I know he would be prouder still.