I've always accepted fairly well that our boys will grow up. I make few efforts to freeze time, even less trying to dictate what the future holds for them. I've tried to stay grounded in a belief that my best opportunity to honor the days I've had with them, and shape the days that await them, is to pour myself in their heres and nows.
But I'm human. There are days I get distracted by father past and want to run from father future.
early mornings reading and writing. He was still climbing up on my lap for a morning hug and a debriefing of the previous night's sports scores.
Talk about fake news. This whole middle school thing was a hoax.
We've both always treasured these morning hugs. In fact, many mornings Elliott sleeps a little past when I leave for work, but he hears me on my way out. There have been mornings I'm pulling out of the driveway and see Elliott standing at the opened front door, wrapped in a blanket, looking at me as I prepare to pull away. I stop the car, get out, run up and collect my hug, then go on my way. Grateful for a hug not lost.
Oh middle school, you can take a lot, but you're not getting my hugs.
One morning last week I got to work and I had a message on my phone from Elliott. It said, dad, I was at the door and you pulled away and you didn't see me. Talk about instant heartbreak. I messaged him and told him I was sorry and that I loved him. But as I walked up the hill to the office, I celebrated a bit. He might be in middle school, but he's still my baby.
That same afternoon I got off work early and had the chance to go pick Elliott up from school. I thought it might be good redemption for missing him that morning. He hopped in the car. He seemed to be long over our missed opportunity from that morning. I asked him the robotic question - how was your day - fully expecting the robotic answer - good - without any supporting evidence ever to support what exactly was so good.
But he didn't say good. He told me one of his friends broke up with a girlfriend that day. He rattled off some details about the tragic event: hearts were broken - lives altered - futures forever thrown off course.
I didn't hear many of those details though. I was stuck on girlfriend. How did a boy who sits on my lap each morning, a boy who laments missing hugs, how did a mere baby of mine even KNOW what a girlfriend was, let alone befriend someone who would have one?
He kept chatting all the way home. I wasn't with him, though. I was lost in those parents' warnings. What fell out of my pinata was a boy discovering girls and breakups. What was going to be next, cars and heavy metal bands? This whole sitting on my lap tradition, he was carrying it on to hide a young man in the shadow of a baby I'd grown to love and in many ways count on.
Oh, middle school. You've humbled me haven't you. I spent 12 years raising a baby. In 3 short months you've flexed your muscles and showed my how easy it is to just pick him up and walk off with him. Well, middle school, you evil monster, be thankful I didn't make him eat more meat along the way. He would have been a whole lot heavier for you to carry!
As I reflected on that conversation later, though, I was thankful. One of my dad goals is that our boys will be able to talk to me when life is good, and when life gets inevitably challenging. When they grow to discover life treats young men and then grown men differently than it treats babies, I want them to know I'm here to hear them out on the thrills and complications of that discovery.
I know I'm the biggest hurdle to that goal. There are conversations I'd rather tell than hear when it comes to growing up. It's hard for me to accept our boys need me to listen as much, and probably more, than they need to hear me talk. But I listened.
Sure, it was easier because it was a buddy's breakup, not my baby's. Still, I listened. And I practiced. Because middle school seems evil and formidable. And the day is coming I'll lose hold of that baby I cling to, and a young man will catch me. When he does, he'll want me to hear him out. Oh help me, I pray that's exactly what I'll do.