Every year the kids – this year my three youngest (I have 4, two girls, twin boys) – visit their grandparents for the summer. This allows me to continue to work and not worry, constantly, about whether they’re okay, what part of the house may have burned down, what adventurous project may have broken a limb or caused a hemorrhage.
I did notice this year, though, that things were a bit different than last.
It’s not that they came home earlier than the last two years . . . that couldn’t be helped. It’s not that they don’t like it in Nebraska, either, they love it there.
The first year, in particular, the trip for the four kids was invaluable. For the girls in particular, things just swirled in a torrent of grief, uncertainty, change and sadness. Everywhere they turned in our home they saw reminders of their Mom. She’d only been gone a couple months. In that time I had to plan and celebrate, just a couple weeks after Andrea died, the boys’ 8th birthday. I had to find a new home. I had to start a new job. All of this was just a mess, for lack of a more poetic phrase. Going to Nebraska was stable. My parents’ house was the same it’s always been. My folks gave them a routine, a good routine they needed to have, and made the kids see that life was moving on, just as it always had. That gave them comfort. Last year they had the same thing.
This year, things were a bit different. Abbi, my oldest, stayed with me to work for college money. The boys were apprehensive about the fact they’re starting at a new school, so is their sister, in her first year of high school.
Things are just different, too. I’ve noticed it. I am certain the kids have . . . we give kids far too little credit for being smart. They’re still intelligent human beings, they’re just smaller and less experienced than we are. So to treat them like they haven’t noticed that I’ve taken over most the parenting chores and to ignore that everything is going to be different in just a few weeks is silly. Even in Nebraska, with each phone call, I could feel the anticipation of the call in their voices when they answered the phone or looked at the Apple Facetime app.
When they got home from the trip, coming down the escalator at the airport, I could tell they were ecstatic to be home. Again, they loved it in Nebraska, it wasn’t the trip or their grandparents. It was home, their own beds, all of that. I took it as a great solace to know they feel that comfortable at home and that happy to be with me. They feel like I’ve managed to care for them, and me not being around seems to worry them, whether they’re aware of it or not.
I say this not in ego but in what has happened every day for the last week: I wake up and see the robed figure of one of my sons peeking in the bedroom door. I keep it open so they know I’m around (and I’m not parading around the house naked or anything, nobody wants to see that). As I start the shower, before getting in, one or both of the boys will be there, in the doorway:
“Just wanted you to know: I made my bed and I’m getting ready to get dressed.”
“Okay…brush your teeth.”
They watch the news with me in the morning as I drink my coffee. They ask intelligent questions about the events of the day. They watch me as I make my lunch and as I walk to the car to get my laptop in the trunk they stand there, together, and wait, patiently.
“We wanted to say goodbye, Dad!”
“I know, kiddo.”
“See you tonight!”
“See you tonight, guys.”
I get in the car, having switched vehicles with Abbi to save money – driving the hybrid car that needs only 10 gallons at a tank. As I pull out the driveway I see their eyes peeking between the slats in the window shades and then they blink closed.
When I get home, they’re at the door, standing there, waiting to hug me again, jumping up and down excited I’m home. It could worry me, sure, that they’re that concerned, but I also know they simply heard the car pull up and raced to the door. Worse things could happen.
And their watching and waiting is just making sure they know I’m there . . . and making sure I know they’re okay with relying on me. There’s nothing wrong with that.