one small step...
Ever since his first day of kindergarten, my youngest son and I have walked the short distance from our front door to the corner of our quiet cul-de-sac to wait for the school bus to pick him up. It's a simple routine, often encompassing the few moments in each day that I get to spend purely alone with my child. There are days when I find the process to be more a burden than a treat, but as a whole, I look forward to our launches.
Every day at exactly 8:16 a.m., we run through a final checklist of his academic requirements - Water bottle? Check! Homework folder? Check! Snack? Check! - and then set out on our way. It's a ritual borne out of my parental need to feel like my son is safe at the corner for those few minutes before the noisy yellow bus groans to a stop and he passes through its gaping maw and into the noisy belly of the beast. I do not wish to believe anything horrifying could happen to my child, but I do know I could never get to him fast enough if I were standing at Point A while he was at Point B.
Out of this parental need has sprung joy. I've mentioned many times before that our daily walk is something so much more than just a quiet stroll. We sing songs. We announce our arrival at the corner by jumping on the large rock nested in the neighbor's yard and bowing before our royal subjects, which are the birds and whichever one of us is left standing because they didn't make it to the rock first. Before we've reached the end of our driveway, my son will be chattering away about his plans for recess or the latest book he selected at the library, and while I listen, I'll fan the fingers of my left hand and he'll quietly, instinctively, twist the fingers of his right around them. As he chatters or we sing and we walk, my son, now almost nearing the end of second grade, will forget he's outgrowing his need to hold my hand, and I'll respond to his questions while thinking I must not blow my chances at being able to repeat this next day by smothering him in goodbye kisses when we reach the corner.
Perhaps his willingness to still hold my hand during this routine is purely his way of thanking me for never embarrassing him in front of his fellow bus riders with overwhelming displays of public affection! If so, I accept his deal.
So, as you might imagine, today started out like every other school day. At 8:16 a.m., I began ticking off the items on his list, he made a last minute stop to the bathroom, checked to ensure the episode of Bakugan he was watching would be recorded for him to watch later, and we were out the door. At the end of the driveway, while we talked about the slight chill in the air, I fanned the fingers of my left hand out and waited for him to twist the fingers of his right around them, and just as it hit me that he wasn't taking my hand, my little boy dashed two houses ahead of me, then turned his head slightly to see if I was following.
"Do you want me to stay here and just watch you the rest of the way?" I asked quietly, hoping he wouldn't hear.
"Yes," he responded loudly.
I took a few more steps forward and he took a few bigger ones to counter me.
"If you don't want me to go down to the corner with you, I can go back to the driveway and just watch to make sure you make it OK," I said. I just needed to hear it again. To be punched a little bit harder in the parental heart one more time. Clearly, the independent swagger displayed by my second grader before I even finished asking indicated he'd be fine. He took off in a sprint to the corner, his camouflage backpack bouncing against the sweatshirt I made him put on before we left. He marked his arrival at Point B by jumping atop the neighbor's rock while I slowly turned around and moped back toward Point A.
When I heard the bus turn our corner and grind to a stop, I turned (for the 12th time on my short adventure) to wave goodbye to my son, and just before the doors swung shut and swallowed him whole, he turned back toward me, fanned open the fingers of his right hand, and quickly waved goodbye to me.
The first big goodbye of many.
Labels: there may have been tears too