Lead image photo credit: Pascal Meier via Unsplash
I dropped my daughter off at the airport yesterday.
We pulled up to the curb, the one painted yellow to warn you not to linger too long for there are many people going many places and goodbyes that range from the nod to the weeping wail to the joyful high five with a velocity to make the skin on your palm sting and blush red, for there are all types of ways to say goodbye. We pulled up and she got out of the car with her hands clutching her backpack and her two bags, with her three friends following in her wake, and she gave me a hug as I reminded her one more time to charge her phone, and take a jacket, and be safe, and be careful crossing streets, and keep her passport somewhere secure, and stay with the group, and take lots of pictures, and again, be safe, but also have an adventure, and she patted me on the shoulder with the type of awkward comfort that the young have for their parents when they hold on too tight and she turned and she walked through the doors. I hopped back into the car, ignoring the way that the airport traffic enforcer was hovering in a subtle reminder to move on already and I drove away while she went through security with her backpack, her two bags, and her three friends and an endless stream of advice, to spend the summer in Europe on study abroad.
The house was quiet when I got home.
The house was quiet with the sort of silence a home takes on when most of its occupants are temporarily absent, a hushed sort of waiting for the sound of footsteps, the echo of a door slamming, the squeak of the refrigerator door opening and closing and opening again, always opening, especially when you have four children, two girls and two boys, who all have friends and neighbors and even casual acquaintances that end up in need of just a little snack mom, we’re starving, and is there anything to eat, and why is there never any food even though you know exactly what is in the fridge and the pantry and it can hardly be classified as anything other than an overabundance, which is what life with children feels like, an overabundance of sound and schedules and mismatched shoes tumbled inside the front door and songs sung out of tune at the top of their lungs as they gather around the piano in the living room, and then silence where once there was noise, and all the infinite moments of nostalgia so strong I can only pause to feel the love and loss and pain and joy at the way time flies by and I cannot stop it, cannot even slow it down, not even a little. And I think of the past, all the times it felt endless, especially as the parent of young children suffering the relentless press of band concerts and voice lessons and math homework that I will never, no not ever understand, and sports practices (no mom, not rehearsal, it is practice), and scrimmages and football games, even though I had not the slightest idea what was happening on the field, I majored in Shakespeare for heaven’s sake, and the late nights waiting for laundry to dry or dance dates to be done when I remember thinking will this day ever be finished so that I can go to sleep.
Then suddenly I am the parent of four college-aged children, two girls and two boys, and like a badly filmed commercial from the nineties it is ten o’clock at night, and do you know where your children are, and the answer is no, but I hope, for that is all you can do is hope, hope and pray, that they are safe and sound and making noise in some other house for some other mother to hear as I lock the doors and send myself to bed.
The house was quiet when I got home from the airport and for just a moment I stopped to remember that I chose this—it is important to stop, it is important to remember, to think about the passing of the long days and the longer nights that come to feel so short from the other side. I pause to remember her small hands clutching pink ribboned handlebars so tight that her knuckles went white when she wobbled her way across the driveway and onto the sidewalk and then she was off, riding her bike down the block and how do I turn around mom before she fell sideways onto a thick green lawn, it is important to remember the green lawn, and I remember teaching her to drive when she was only a little taller, I remember circling the car around the church parking lot, and her hands on a steering wheel, clutched so tight her knuckles went white, and park right next to that Oldsmobile there I would say as I pointed to an empty parking space in the empty lot and she would huff in frustration and ask why it was always an Oldsmobile she was supposed to pretend to see as she practiced her parking and I would respond because that is what I am going to be by the time you learn how to park this car…old, because bad jokes are not solely the privilege of her father, and she would roll her eyes and park the car and then reverse and do it all again, the way I wonder if I would if I had the power, reverse it and do it again, and think about making different choices, living different lives, but I know that I would not.
Every choice that I have made has led me to this moment in this empty room with a full heart, listening to the echo of the laughter that my house has known and the joy that has sunk deep into the floors and the walls, that has rooted itself so that I can see the shadows of my own children in my niece and nephew who come and run on the same grass and play with my young puppies and my grown children and are so full of noise and so full of questions, questions like what do chickens think, and do dogs like licorice, and can we have a late night and can we have a snack, I think about the way things never change, not really, we simply experience it in different ways, and I think about choosing joy and choosing love and choosing to celebrate things like pink ribbons on chrome handlebars streaming in a long ago breeze, and I think about that morning at the airport and I revel in the fact that it is time to choose to move on already.