And so, we have come back around to September again. There have been 52 of them for me thus far, 19 for Oldest Daughter, 16 for Younger Daughter. My lovely wife has had somewhat fewer Septembers in her life. It's the first September for the new puppy, now 8 months old and sleeping at my feet as I write this. This can be a time of year to take stock of the summer past, and look forward to the fall ahead, and perhaps ponder our place in the Universe.
The end of summer. Time to say goodbye to longer days, warm evenings; being able to jump in the pool at 8 PM and not get chilled after you get out. Its also time for the start of school. The streets in our neighborhood are again full of parents and kids, all walking to school. The 7:45 AM rush, a timeless tradition here for more than 50 years or so, I guess. Strollers, little bikes, kids in helmets, small students with parents holding hands, backpacks and lunch sacks, moving slowly westward from the top of our street, daily participants in some not-so-distant Big Event.
It really is a Big Event, this life we lead, isn't it? Full of millions of little events, like your first bike solo, your first day of school, and, as you grow older, heading back to college in the early fall. All these seemingly little events that begin to pile up, and make something beautiful, or sad, or challenging. Each step is important, and if we handle them with love and humor, perhaps the finished result might be something beautiful.
We participated in that again this year, for our second time, in the start of college thing. Three weeks ago, we were in Chicago moving Kelly into her completely hip college apartment. Four girls in three bedrooms (and what looks to have been the former den), ready for another year at school. Trips to Ikea, and Target and Costco, gathering up the stuff needed to make the apartment work. With my lovely wife along, I felt sort of like Cro-Magnon Man With Wallet. Following wife and daughter to all these places, grunting occasionally at some decorating choice, and supply my VISA card at the crucial check-out moment. Most of the sounds I made sounded much like the names of the products sold at Ikea, such as "Fnork", or "Trall", or "Glank". This is my new roll as the Dad of a college aged daughter; follow, grunt, pay.
As I followed the ladies around Ikea and Costco, I was also quietly reflecting on how life had led me to this place, and remembering, through the fog of middle age, my own college years. What if I could relive those years, only with the middle life perspective I now have? What would that feel like, and how might I experience those college years differently? This is what I wondered, as I pushed the cart around Ikea.
As part of all this pondering, about college and daughters and life, I have been reflecting on the ark that the life of Older Daughter is taking as she reaches toward 20 years. A sophomore in college now As a young parent there was no way I could have ever know or fully understood who she was going to become as she grew. No way I would have known that she decided in the fifth grade that she should become a teacher for her vocation. So many things I could never have imagined, that have now come to pass.
This place of "not knowing" about where are kids are headed is as old as humanity, and reminds me of one of my favorite stories in the Gospels. In Luke, where Joseph & Mary present their little child to the Lord, and a man named Simeon is present. How would you feel if an old man took your child in his arms and pronounced clearly just exactly what his or her future would look like? My favorite line in this story is:
"Jesus' father and mother were speechless with surprise at these words."
I can completely understand how they felt, those two very young parents. What was this old man saying? How did he know? And for me, what would it have felt like to have been told the future and fate of my own child, when she was so very young? What a moment. What a life. We parents, we need time to take it all in. Learning it all too fast can break our hearts.
And then, several days ago, I stumbled on this beautiful song by Rosie Thomas. It seems to connect the pieces together perfectly at just this point in life.
When they are little, you want to hold them so tight. I think Mary and Joseph felt that too. I did. But as time passes, our grip must loosen. I keep telling myself that. Loosen up, dude. I said that to myself as I circled around inside Ikea. Loosen up.
I need to remember, that, in spite of my own unconvinced heart, and sometimes undercover smile, that I need to just let her go. She's beautiful. Otherwise, she may never know.
Red Rover by Rosie Thomas
Red rover, red rover Send Mary right over School books in her hand And her shawl over her shoulders
And let her run Run as fast as she can Don't let her grow up to be Like her mother Heart so unconvinced and a world So undiscovered And asking for forgiveness Not knowing how to forgive. And oh Just let her go And oh She's beautiful If you hold her back, She may never know. Red rover, red rover, Send Daniel School books in his hand And a coat over his shoulder And let him run Run as fast as he can Don't let him grow up to be like his father Heart so set in stone And a smile so undercover And opening the door to love, Never letting love in. And oh Just let him go And oh He's beautiful If you hold him back, He may never know.