Drop Off and Pick Up
I open the door and turn on the light. Switch off the nightlight and open the blinds. I go over and rest my hand on the warm blanket over my son’s back and say, “Mornin’.” Or sometimes I crow or snort.
After breakfast, we walk our dog with his macho complex around the neighborhood, and often we talk in mellow voices. Today my son talked about The Lord of the Rings while I mostly listened, as our dog strutted along in his winter vest trying to intimidate squirrels. Back at home, my son prepared his school lunch while I drank more coffee and puttered about. I found a chew-bone and gave it to the dog.
Fifteen minutes until the first bell. The flow of a weekday morning.
My wife and I, in the early years of our marriage, traveled whenever we could. We went to Namibia and watched desert elephants. We journeyed the length of Vietnam. When we started talking about parenthood, in our late thirties, I mentioned how I wanted to be the kind of dad who spent everyday time with my kid. It’s something I missed when I was young.
And so, when our son came along and then started going to school, I was the drop-off and pick-up guy. I had by that time stitched together a living with several part-time jobs in order to have enough time each morning to write, and my wife was a full-time middle school English teacher. I worked it out with my employers to keep those drop-off and pick-up hours free.
When my son was in kindergarten, each day I walked into the school with him and we said goodbye at his classroom door. By second grade, we parted in front of the school. By fourth grade I walked with him as far as the block before school and watched as he crossed the street and made his way from there.
Now we’ve reached a new stage. It’s time to let him go both ways alone. He’s the one who’s ready, and of course I’m not quite there. I don’t tell him that, though. Instead we’ve talked about how to carry yourself, and how to handle various situations should they arise, and I’m proud when I watch the kid walk with his head up and honor his own dignity.
Today, after we said goodbye and I turned around for home, I looked over my shoulder as I usually do, and I don’t know if he had already looked over his own shoulder or if he hadn’t, but my son went on walking toward the school and into his day, and I turned and walked off into mine.
I glanced at the low clouds. Watched a crow fly past. I heard kids’ voices from the receding playground, the freeway’s din from a few blocks away. Another day in motion on this part of the planet, another chance to shun frenzy, travel well, savor some moments.
At that moment, I wanted to look back once more. I wanted to make sure that my son had reached the ball field behind the school, that all was okay. But then our house came into view and there was the dog in his usual sentinel position in the front window, waiting, huge ears up. When I stepped into the driveway he let out a sharp bark as if to say What took you so long? Where on earth have you been? And in the distance the school bell rang.