“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it. And then he feels that perhaps there isn’t.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
He had two names. A first one that, in English, meant “clear water” and a middle one that meant “smart” according to his official documents. His adoption case worker in South Korea gave him the names. When I traveled to bring him home to us twenty years ago next month, his only other possessions were two gifts from his foster-mother. The first, a tiny silver bracelet and the other, a pendant engraved with his name and birthday in Hangul characters. At a year of age, he was just beginning to talk, so he had a few Korean vocabulary words, too. He lost the foster-mother the day she placed him in my arms for the long trip to his new life in America. The words he’d learned from her were lost in the confusion of learning English ones. The bracelet and pendant are all that remain, reminders of who he was and what he lost in exchange for us, his Forever family.
No wonder the kid has always like stuff. His stuff, especially. For example, last year when he was preparing to leave for college, I tried to convince him to donate his plastic Fisher Price castle and army of “castle guys” to Goodwill. It is still up on a shelf in the garage waiting for a family of imperialistic mice to invade the castle and chase the current residents across the moat and out of the kingdom. If the Beanie Baby animals living in the clear plastic bin on the shelf next to the castle hear the cannon fire, they’ll have to decide which side they’re on.
I am at the stage of parenthood where, twice a year, my vehicle becomes a moving van for the two nomadic young adults who keep moving. Last week, I drove to Fargo to collect the first load for the Boy.
Now I know why camels spit so much. And they don’t even have to worry about freezing rain.
When I arrived at his apartment, I watched him pack. I say “watch” and not “help” because he had a system and I didn’t want to muck it up with, say, an actual system. I know it sounds a little wacky, but my idea of packing is to pack things that belong together together. His system, apparently, is to grab an armful of whatever is closest and shove the contents into the closest plastic bin. Rumpled t-shirts, used textbooks that he can’t sell, his Kirby Puckett bobble head, and a package of fruit snacks that I’m fairly certain I bought in 2011 made it into the first one. Another bin, which I mentally labeled Hazardous Materials, was reserved for all the rancid sneakers I have pleaded with him to toss out since at least the tenth grade.
I am moving stuff that landfills won’t take. HIS stuff.
It was getting late so I suggested that he look for a couple of soft things to stick in one bin to take up some room. He found a couple of old stuffed animals that he unceremoniously stuffed head-first into the bin before clicking the lid shut. He was just about to do the same thing to his well-worn, well-loved, stuffed Panda but then he hesitated and said, “I’ll just wait to pack this one. He can stay.” Close call there, Mr. Panda.
It’s been a year of challenges for Mr. Panda’s friend. The year that college became a whole lot more work than fun. Doubts about his chosen major and frustration over the slow slog toward graduation have plagued him. He sees friends finishing other, less challenging majors and questions his own choice of career. It’s hard to know what to say to him at times like this.
We finish packing and I offer to take him to dinner. During the meal, I tell him just to hold on. To his dreams, his goals, his friends, his sister, and us. I tell him to hold on to both his sense of humor and some perspective about all of it.
And then I tell him to let go of “would have” and “could have” and “should have” because they are even more toxic than those sneakers in the bin. And finally, to let go of the belief that everyone else has their stuff figured out. I tell him that mastering college is more about persistence than aptitude. I know that it will be years before he believes me.
After dinner, stuffed full of both steak and words he hugs me quickly and walks toward the apartment building. As I head toward home, I think about what we hold on to and what we don’t to successfully complete Life 101, a course with no final exam. Things like faith, and hope, and especially love. And sometimes, even scruffy old panda bears waiting silently, patiently, for their boys to come home.