Last night E and I were driving into town to pick As up from football, we stopped behind a school bus and watched a little boy hop down off the stairs, wait for his cue to cross the road, and then run with his backpack bouncing off his bottom (his bag was so big compared to his little legs!) across the street toward his driveway. His smile turned my head, and I saw his momma waiting, bent to his level, arms open wide, her smile just as big.
My favorite part of the day has always been Come Home Time. The late afternoon/early evening when all my ducks (E included) wandered back to the nest for the thin part of the day. Right as the sun dip her toes into the last hours of work, my family would come home. Meeting them at the end of the driveway after school was always the apex of that time, the anticipation of them coming home, hearing their stories, seeing their faces and hugging them was a reward for the silence and work of the day. Of course, it wasn’t always great, and I am aware that I have greatly romanticized a lot of those moments. There were days I was met with grumpy, ornery, hungry, pissed off boys – exhausted from containing their big selves in tiny chairs and tight spaces all day. There were days my much anticipated Come Home Time turned into “Why the hell was I so excited for all these kids to come home?” Probably more than I care to remember, and likely more than most. Even then, I was always happier to have us all together.
As the boys got bigger, and there were more than two, Come Home Time evolved from meeting them at the driveway to sitting inside on winter afternoons while I watched from the window, the baby on my lap or sleeping. As much as I loved greeting them at the bus stop, I began to love to watch them walk in on their own. Their solo trip a welcome sign of burgeoning independence. A window into how their minds worked, what they do when given a few minutes of unsupervised (at least immediate supervision) time. I especially delighted in their walk home when there was snow. Boots dragging a path through the white fluff, toward the house, winding foot prints. Their mitten-empty hands scooping up snow, licking it off, flicking it into the air to catch on their tongues. The trail they left behind creating a scrolling, calligraphy pattern, no straight line anywhere.
I found beauty in their winding path, their inquisitiveness and the quiet time they took to have an adventure between the bus and the house. Creativity, curiosity, purpose all bundled together to create a few moments of bliss for my boys. Some days, of course, they ran straight for the back door – so excited (or hungry, or needing a potty, or needing to tattle on the other) they couldn’t stop to wonder. I enjoyed the exuberance of those journeys also, but for me, I found peace and comfort in their choice of a winding, meandering path.
Fast forward through middle school, to after school football, baseball, lacrosse, 16th birthdays and plans that extended Come Home Time to late evening and no longer included a walk in from the bus and I have forgotten the beauty of their never straight, always curious, winding path. Instead, I find myself pushing an agenda that enforces a straight path, A to B, no side trips, racing to the end goal which is … not mine to make. Grappling with helping them find a path to their own successes and allowing them failures – how many times will I write about this I wonder?
I am not sure where my desire for this straight shot to success and a final destination comes from – for goodness sakes, I graduated in 1990 from high school and it took me 8 years, one hiatus from life to skate for Disney on Ice, 4 education major changes, two universities, one wedding, purchasing a house and having a baby before I graduated with my BSN in 1998. No straight shot there. I wound my way through the snow, creating a path that no one could follow if they tried. I learned, I failed, I succeeded, I made decisions, and then changed them, I grew. That path wasn’t even close to straight, but it was rich, full (of success and heartache) and it was mine. Looking back some of my greatest failures during that time became boones to my successes, gave me grit and resilience. That. That is what I want for my kids. And I have to stop expecting it to come without failure and disappointment. It won’t. It doesn’t work that way.
I remember talking with a group of new college mommas last year and lamenting together as we shared our experiences of the first few weeks of college: Why had nobody said, “Oh hey by the way, the first few weeks /months of college are a roller coaster – your kid goes from being excited as hell to hating everything about where they are to having the time of their life to wanting to come home to wanting to stay to thinking they should change their major and not liking their roommate and then believing their roommate is their best friend and being certain that their major is the right choice.” There is no straight shot. None. And that’s ok. In fact, it’s brilliant. It’s perfect. It’s exactly as it should be. Be present, be aware, support and encourage. And don’t direct the path.
Watching that little boy run into his momma’s arms filled me with warm nostalgia for Come Home Time and those meandering foot prints in the snow. For once, I didn’t feel the bittersweet twinge of loss as my boys are growing and leaving. I’m listening, universe, I said. Their path, not mine. That’s not to say I won’t provide a guide (I am their momma after all and frankly I don’t know how to do it any other way) as they wonder in the snow, but I will remind myself of the joy and pride I found in watching them find their way, and remember the satisfaction I had when my own winding path had pit stops of success. Come Home Time will never be the same in my home, but the lessons they taught me then will help me (and them) now.