Friday, August 1, 2008

hydroplaning towards a brighter future

I have three weeks of summer left with my boys before they both begin school. My oldest will be in first grade, my youngest in pre-school. I’m at home with them during the day mostly, and their absence is going to be weird.

The best way I can describe how I'm feeling is with the following story:

I was in a car accident a few months back that totaled my car. I was driving down a steep hill during a heavy rain, and I lost control and slid into a car that was stopped in front of me. Luckily, no one was hurt, but it was a serious experience. First, when I realized I was hydroplaning, I slowly put on the brakes. They didn’t work, so I tried to drive off the road so as not to run into the cars in front of me. My car didn’t want to turn so I slammed on my brakes,but still hit the car in front of me.

There was a moment between realizing I had lost control of my car and seeing the two less than fortunate futures that awaited me (hitting another car or driving off a steep embankment) where it really sunk in that the strings that I use to manipulate events are really very thin threads. And at that moment, they had snapped.

That’s the closest I can get to explaining how I feel about my sons moving closer to adulthood. It’s not terrible like an impending car crash, but the same sense of fraying threads is occurring. The boys are developing these sharp little minds, and they have these deep wells of curiosity that I sometimes struggle to fill. It’s most noticeable in my oldest son, who is becoming more independent by the day. He’s building models and legos without any help from me. He’s reading books all by himself, and picking up on hidden themes in adult conversations and atmospheres. I can talk to him largely in adult terms, and--with only minimal sidebar explanation-- he can follow.
The evolution of my youngest seems more rapid than of my oldest, because I see him moving through similar stages as my oldest did on the way to where he is at now.

It’s weird, because before my kids, I was really only about living for me. Having kids teaches you--if you’re willing to learn--that you’re not the most important person in the room (not even when you’re the only person in the room). You develop a keen sense of what is good for them, and find joy in their joy and feel pain when they feel pain. When they’re very young, you have them in a protective little sphere where nothing too bad can happen to them. You’re proud to see them testing the edges of their little safe zone, but there’s some anxiety there too.

Of course, this is all premature. It will be a few more years still before I’m an old man doing jigsaw puzzles at his dining room table after work. Until then there is time for countless games of checkers and dominoes, many more bedtime stories, and our stock of band-aids is nowhere near running out. There is anxiety in watching my kids grow up, yes, but there is also hope: my threads are thinning, yes, but in the place of their father’s protective threads my kids are building muscle.

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