After tossing and turning half the night as the wind howled and the rain hurled itself against the windows and roof, I was already awake when my old clock radio clicked on suddenly and softly at 5:00 a.m. I stumbled out of bed, reaching for my glasses, watch, and bathrobe. When I tapped lightly on the door to Ben's room, I heard his muffled voice say, "I'm awake."
"Dress in layers, and wear your new hiking boots," I suggested. Trying to offer some encouraging words, I added, "It probably can't get much worse than this. If you can make it through this morning with the wind and the cold rain and the heavy Sunday papers, you'll be ready for anything."
A few minutes later, we were sitting side by side on the living room, putting the papers together, rolling them, and stuffing them into the wafer thin plastic bags. I was sipping a mug of tea, and Ben was huddled on the heater while we waited for the house to warm up. About a third of the way through the stack of papers, we both realized he could never fit all the thick Sunday papers into his paper bag at once.
"How am I going to get all these over there?" Ben wondered aloud.
"I'll drive you," I answered immediately.
A few minutes passed as we continued to roll and stuff. Then Ben said, "Do you think you could stay with me today? I could leave my list in the car and just take a few papers at a time. I wouldn't ask you to normally, but I'm not sure how I can do this myself today."
"Sure, I'd just be sitting here waiting for you to get back anyway."
Armed with flashlights, raincoats, and two extra bags of papers, we crept out into the dark, cold morning that still felt a lot like nighttime. We discovered the rain had recently been freezing rain, and the sidewalks were icy and slippery.
As Ben made his way from house to house, picking up speed as the sky lightened and the rain turned to drizzle, I followed in the Subaru, supplying him with papers and house numbers. He was wearing a stocking hat, and because he hasn't worn a hat since he started middle school and began worrying about messing up his carefully gelled hair, he looked like a bigger version of a much younger self to me. I felt my emotions welling up as I watched him carefully navigating the slippery sidewalks and conscientiously putting the papers where his customers had asked him to put them. Every so often he'd look back at me and grin.
So was it the way I would have chosen to begin my Sunday morning? No. But I realized in the midst of it, there was really nowhere else I wanted to be.
It’s been eleven years since that cold, wet Sunday morning at the beginning of my son’s year-and-a half-long stint as a paper boy. I think of it every time I walk the streets that were part of his route. I can’t say I was sorry when he gave up his route at the end of the following summer. It was a relentless job that ended up involving our whole family at one point or another. But he learned a lot about working hard, being responsible, and managing money and people. And I learned a lot about what it means to support your kids as they make their way through life.