Introspection Parenting Society and Culture

Life with a wildland firefighter

September 10, 2020

I know what Heaven feels like. When the seven-year-old’s alarm goes off, and he slips into bed between me and my husband. I lay there in the half-light of a fall morning, soaking in their sleepy scent.

Exhausted, my husband stirs only slightly. He still smells faintly of smoke – the cologne of the firefighter – despite a half-hour shower the evening before. It was his first shower in two weeks.

I don’t even mind the whispered argument with my son. “Time for breakfast. Let dad sleep.”

“But mom! I want to stay here forever.”

Me too, baby boy. Me too.

He is home, is safe, is close.

The living room is a mess. My husband’s dirty red bag lies gutted on the floor where he let it slip from his shoulder as he came through the door. Ziplock bags full of socks and extra pairs of wool underwear are sprawled next to miscellaneous camp gear.

And around the soot-stained mess of my husband’s discarded gear is a bright red toy fire helicopter and a fire truck, ladder extended, where my son had been playing earlier that day, reenacting acts of heroism as he waited for his very own hero to arrive safely home.

In the kitchen, as I make my son’s breakfast, my husband’s dirty field notebook sits on the catch-all counter nearby, next to his keys and name badge, a pair of earplugs to protect against the whine of the chainsaw, a compass, a dirty pocketknife, and his familiar ash-covered sunglasses.

It is all so dear to me, this clutter, this sign that he is home, is safe, is close.

In many ways it is business as usual at our house.

The teenager emerges from downstairs, dressed and ready for the day. He’s already fed himself and loaded his backpack. Self-sufficient and so much more together in the mornings than his sleepyhead mom and brother.

He slides some sheet music into his trumpet case and buckles it closed.

A quick hug and he’s out the door.

Yet there is this sense that today is special.

Today, dad is home, is safe, is close.

We can’t find a pair of jeans that fit the seven-year-old. Everything is tight and several inches too short. He’s grown in the few short weeks since school started. In the weeks since his dad last saw him, he’s become another, larger version of himself.

We laugh and try another pair. This is usually a fight, this trying on of jeans.

Not today. Today, nothing is a chore. Today everything is okay.

My husband has promised to do the walk to school. My son bubbles with anticipation.

My husband has a hard time getting moving, but he does, because it matters to our son, and it matters to him.

He has two days.

Two days to be a dad, a husband. Two days to rest before he repacks that red bag, fills his pockets with his field notebook, his compass, his knife, his earplugs. He’ll don the nametag and dirty sunglasses and be off, to fight battles the rest of us can’t fathom.

Because that is his job, his passion. Because that’s just who he is.

He is a wildland firefighter.

Copyright © 2020 Sara Beth Wald