It starts off simply enough; you innocently decide one day to start a family and sometime later you spend a few days in the hospital. When you leave, you have a wrinkled, helpless infant in tow and your life is changed in ways you can’t grasp, describe, or really even fathom.
And that’s just the beginning.
For reasons known only on a primal, conceptual level, you repeat the process until you’ve populated your home with as many rugrats as you can handle without a trip to Happy Acres Psychological Wellness Center.
And then they start to grow up.
You think the growing up is going to take forever. The minimum commitment, eighteen long years, seems a ridiculous amount of time. It’s so long that you don’t even have a frame of reference for it except for your own childhood and maybe an aging car that your grandfather started driving before you could form words.
And then you blink.
You wake up groggily one morning, closer to forty than you were to the drinking age when they handed you a driver’s license; closer to your retirement party than to the day some know-it-all kid with a face you barely remember (or recognize) was handed a Bachelor’s Degree with your name on it. You shower and shave, and go through the morning motions before walking the bulk of your family to the bus stop.
You watch with awe as your oldest steps up onto the bus without even a slight turn back. A seven year-old second-grader, he’s but a year removed from the third grade, which has always been the high-water mark in your head between a young kid and kid starting to find his own way. You suspect that’s because you learned to multiply in the third grade, and that’s officially the start of Serious Shit educationally, but a quiet, conspiratorial voice (you mostly hate) whispers that the kid on that bus is starting to find his own way already. Possibly just to spite you.
Your six-year boards next, asking his older, wiser, brother how far back on the bus he should sit. He’s a first grader now, a bona-fide real student, not like those part-time children whose grade is just a letter and have to sit in the seats with the butterfly-stickers near the front, by the driver. That fact that he gets to eat lunch at school, responsible for himself and his own tray, is the highlight of his day.
And then your five-year old daughter, your little nut-meg, who often forgets to take a breath when telling a story and is never at a loss for words, sneaks out of the bus line to steal one last hug from her Daddy before she takes her new pink backpack and her shiny new butterfly earrings (which match the school bus seat stickers!) out into the greater world without you. You think she’s going to be tearful, or at least somewhat hesitant to take that step without holding your hand.
It turns out that the only one tearful is you, and that you’re much more hesitant about her taking steps.
The bus fades away into the distance, and you shuffle back to the house with a camera full of pictures you aren’t sure you want to see just yet. And the house feels empty because there’s no one in it now but your wife and the only child not yet in school, a 23 month-old firecracker that’s happy to reply “Bear” when you ask him for his name.
You realize that the last time your house was this empty, you had barely taken but a couple of uncertain steps down the path to understanding what all of this would mean to your life. Then there was a blink of an eye, and now you finally see that the path isn’t half as long as you thought, and although you’re not even halfway there, the end is already rushing (much too fast) to meet you.
It’s a lot to process at 8 AM on a pleasant mid-August morning.
And it’s a lot to be proud of too.