Sometimes a day at the races is more than just a day at the races...
| "One-Track" Mind
By Donna Lowich
"I think I'll take Jeffrey to the track tomorrow," my husband, Walter, decided on a Friday in July 1986.
Decisions, big and small, are made every day. We make numerous ones for ourselves all the time, and as parents, we make decisions continually for our children, as well. For the most part, these decisions relate to what they will wear, what they will eat, what they will do that day. On rare occasions, we can make decisions regarding what they will do for the rest of their lives, and will be the cornerstone of that relationship as parent and child.
One such example is the relationship between my son, Jeff and his Dad. It was July, 1986. I was recovering from two spinal cord surgeries, and undergoing intensive physical therapy at home, after being in the hospital and rehab center for seven months. It was a difficult time for all of us, but especially for Jeffrey, who was almost five years old at the time.
The little boy who sang, ‘Mommy's coming home today' from the moment he woke up on my discharge day until I was back in my home that day in June, had endured many disappointments during the previous seven months. My release date kept changing as I continued making progress in therapy. Finally, my day to leave had arrived, and we all looked forward to my return home, hoping and believing that once I was home, things would be as they once were. Unfortunately, things were very still very different.
It was to ease the difficulty of the situation, and to get Jeffrey to focus on happier thoughts that Walter offered to take Jeffrey to the racetrack for the day. They had shared some difficult moments while I was hospitalized, especially when they were both sick with the flu, yet each managed to care for the other. Now it was time to share some happy moments together.
"He'll love to see the horses, and the jockeys' silks are so colorful," Walter assured me. "We'll spend a few hours there and come home."
I agreed, thinking it would be great for them to enjoy a day at the races with each other.
The track is about an hour away, so the day would be eventful for Jeff, but just how eventful we wouldn't know for some time, but we would certainly find out!
"Ready to go, Bud?" Walter called upstairs to Jeff, as they prepared to leave.
Jeff came running down the stairs, excitement on his face. He looked at me, and stopped short, a somber look replacing his smile. "But, Mommy, what about you?"
"Oh, Jeffrey, don't worry about me, I have my therapists coming today, and I need to do my exercises with them so that I can get better. You go with Daddy and have a wonderful day at the track. I'll be here when you get home, and you can tell me all about it, OK?
He looked at me with tear-filled eyes, searching my face to see if it was really what I wanted.
"OK Mommy." He hugged me, and added, "I love you."
"I love you, too." I kissed him gently as my own eyes welled up. "Now go! And have a great day!" We hugged again, he rested his head on my shoulder, and then he kissed me goodbye.
When they arrived home late in the afternoon, both Walter and Jeffrey were grinning from ear to ear. I smiled back. "Did you guys have a good time together today?"
"Good? It was GREAT!" Jeffrey exclaimed, his chocolate-brown eyes shining brightly with excitement. "We were at the finish line and we saw the horses up close for all the races!'
"Wow, Jeff! I'm glad you had such a good time! What did you like best? The jockeys? The bugler?
"I liked seeing the horses run, and guessing which ones would win. It was great! He paused, and then said, "I helped Dad pick out the winners!"
I looked at Walter, who was nodding his head in agreement, "We spent time at the paddock area, and then we chose the horses we thought would win. Then Jeff ran all the way back to the finish line to wait for the race!"
He shook his head in amazement. "I was wrong--he was not interested in the jockeys or the silks. He went right for the finish line. And, he did help me pick who the winners were. Didn't you, Bud?"
Jeff nodded his head vigorously in agreement. "Thanks, Dad, " he said. "I had a great time today!"
"So did I, Jeff. So did I." He embraced him and said, "I'm glad I could it for you, Bud."
That was just the first of many trips my two guys took to the track together. After a few visits, it became apparent that Jeffrey had a natural ability to pick out the winners; this was becoming more evident as time went on. Before long, it was Walter who was asking Jeffrey in earnest for help in choosing each race's winner. Before the year was up, other people sitting nearby were listening to what Jeffrey was saying.
That decision, that fateful decision, led Jeff to focus on racing all during his growing up years. He immersed himself so much into his love of horses and racing, that when given the assignment in kindergarten to draw a picture with a question mark as the starting point, Jeffrey drew a race horse named Ferdinand, whose tail was composed of the required question mark.
The years passed, and Jeffrey and Walter bonded through their trips to baseball games, museums, and class trips. Baseball games, especially the ones in which Jeffrey played, remained a favorite pastime. But, still, nothing could beat a day at the track.
Once Jeff graduated from college with a degree in business administration, he was accepted into an equine management program, where he received a second bachelor's degree. He is now employed as a manager at the very same track he first visited twenty years ago.
But that isn't the end of the story. The trips to the track only cemented further a close relationship between this father and his son, a closeness that developed partly as a result of each of them taking care of the other during my hospitalization.
The spring after his freshman year at college, Jeffrey landed a job as a security guard at the track. He worked hard and scrupulously saved his salary. On Father's Day, Jeffrey handed Walter a package.
Upon opening the box, Walter pulled out a beautiful clock radio with a CD player, a top-of-the line product, something Jeff knew his Dad wanted, but would never buy for himself.
"Jeff! This is great!" Walter enthused as he hugged him. "Thank you so much, Bud!"
Jeff looked at his dad and replied, "You're welcome!" and then, quietly he whispered, "I'm glad I could do it for you." And he hugged Walter back.
Sometimes, a day at the races is more than just a day at the races.