Sep 26, 2013 0 Share

From Empty to Full


Author's brother and father standing in front of bicycles.
Photo by Caroline McGraw

Let me tell you this: My family and I have very differing philosophies when it comes to bike riding. I view a bike ride as a fairly leisurely occupation, an opportunity to notice the birds in the trees and the scent of saltwater in the air. My parents and brother, on the other hand, consider a bike ride an opportunity to zoom from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. On vacation—vacation!—they ride for about an hour and a half each morning. And on the last day of our trip to Hilton Head earlier this month, I decided to join them. Within the first five minutes, I gave up hope of trying to catch my brother and reconciled myself to being last in line. Two hours and one empty water bottle later, I could barely stand up straight. My parents and brother headed for the pool, and I headed for the couch. 

After I recovered (read: slept the sleep of the exhausted), my husband Jonathan and I made a list in preparation for our trip to the local food store. We'd volunteered to prepare supper for the family, so we needed provisions … and my parents, as it turned out, needed a break. On the first day we'd arrived, I'd offered to spend an afternoon with Willie, thereby giving my parents some time to themselves. And that day, my mom finally took me up on the offer, saying, “Honey, do you think you two could take Willie with you to the grocery store?” 

Though I'd been the one to offer, I hesitated. Willie was having a great day, but I know firsthand how fast his mood can change. Worst-case supermarket scenarios spun through my mind; I imagined an epic meltdown in the refrigerated section. With willpower, I coached myself back to reality: You'll be with Jonathan. You won't be alone. And Willie has been doing so well. He's not at all on edge today, and he's been fine every day this week. Plus, it's important to help out and give your parents some much-needed respite. It isn't always easy for them to ask …  

“Okay, sounds good!” I said. With trepidation, I picked up my purse and let Willie know that he was invited to come with us. He sprang into action, pulling on his shoes and picking up the empty gallon-jug water bottles that needed to be refilled at the store. (How could he move so fast, after a bike ride and a swim?! I wondered.) Soon we were out the door. “Go out! Have fun!” I called to our parents. Even so, I half-expected them to be doing laundry when we came home. But when we returned—after a gloriously uneventful grocery store experience—Mom and Dad were nowhere to be found. “They made a break for it!” I joked with Jonathan. I was simultaneously surprised and proud of them. 

Together, the three of us unloaded the groceries; Willie pitched in without being asked. Once the food was put away, Willie raced over to Dad's laptop to watch videos. He needed time to unwind, so I let him be as I took charge of finishing the laundry. My husband made sure that dinner preparations were set in motion; soon, the tantalizing smells of meatloaf, roasted asparagus, and spaghetti squash filled the kitchen. I handed Willie a pile of clothes to fold, so he could help out while staying on the computer. And when the family played Go Fish that night, Willie and I tied for the win. 

As I drifted to sleep, I kept picturing Willie filling the water bottles. Though the refill machine seemed confusing to me, he'd known just what to do. I handed Willie empty bottles, and he gave them back to me full. He'd taken charge; all I'd done was hand him bills and coins. It was akin to watching my brother on a bike, seeing him fly far ahead of me and not minding a bit. 

It took all three of us to carry the water jugs to the car, but as I walked into the bright afternoon, mine seemed to weigh nothing at all.