Annd He’s Off …..
Knew it was coming… but damn this summer went fast. And this one is different. He’s the baby – the male bookend to the two daughters sandwiched in between. He’s the delineator. His departure puts us in another league.
This final summer we had the pleasure of seeing Joe in a baseball uniform once again. As a senior who came to the team without the benefit of the intervening years of high school play, he could not expect and did not receive much playing time but he was a class act, a beautiful site. A few weeks after the season ended, Shannon’s medical emergency called us all to Connecticut. We shared close quarters in Brian and Kelly’s home, under Kelly’s gracious management. While Shannon convalesced, we enjoyed watching Joe be a territorial uncle with Kiera, carrying her in strong and sure arms. Back home again, we attended my nephew’s graduation party and listened to Joe break the silence of my late brother Tim’s guitar with a sweetness that made my heart stop. We rounded out the summer with a long weekend at a cabin up north. It was Joe’s request and God’s grace granted that it could happen. His girlfriend, Kaycee, came with him and we were also joined by our daughter Katie. There we soaked in the peaceful quiet of the lakeside, swimming, fishing, campfiring, jigsaw puzzling, eating and laughing. Joe and Kaycee left a day early and it was in watching their departure that the first note of the impending change struck – the realization that my years of active parenting were over – really and finally over – and not in the yippee, kick-up-your heels kind of realization, but the dawning of the fact that for all intents and purposes, our kids had all left our orbit path – we were entering the years of scheduled and planned visits.
This last and final weekend, it was just Joe and I, his Dad doing some volunteer work at a men’s prison in a neighboring county. Our move-in time slot for the dorm was scheduled for 4:30 pm Sunday afternoon. The previous couple of weeks had seen the shopping for and acquisition of all the requisites: the shower caddy and its contents, the dorm bedding set, the towels, the laptop and carrying case. I did my best all weekend not to be the hovering, advise-giving, directing/suggesting Mom that is so irritating, particularly it seems between mother and son at this point of separation. Joe had his plan and asked only that I get all of his laundry done which I gladly did. By 2:30 Sunday afternoon, everything was neatly and efficiently packed into one large cardboard box, one humongous duffle bag, one large plastic storage container, his backpack, shower caddy and laptop case. He and his girlfriend loaded it into the car.
The goal one year ago was to have a “good finish.” Before we drove away from the house Sunday afternoon we had a prolonged hug in the driveway, initiated by him. Once in the car and headed down the street, I asked him if we’d met the goal. He said we absolutely did, that things had come a long way, and I was able to believe him.
I sit here at this moment with a resounding echo in the house. Echo of a summer gone way too fast; echo of a life gone way too fast. Cliche, cliche, cliche; but there you have it. All the good intentions, all the wisdom I thought I would impart as a parent, all the mistakes and imperfections now realized. The fact is that Joe did not get the best of our years nor the best of our selves. He had to swim in some very choppy seas and, quite frankly, so did we. There wasn’t always a shoreline in site and it wasn’t always clear that we would be able to recognize each other once we got there. Yet, by the time his Dad met up with us at the dorm last night and everything now unloaded and unpacked; we accomplished one final parental errand and drove together with Joe at the wheel to a Walgreens for some plastic hangers. Returning to the campus, we said good-by, clear and unfettered, confident in his ability to make his way.
To paraphrase Bob Dylan:
And there you are going my blue-eyed son.
And there you are going my darling young one.
Thank you, Joe, for all the teachings you have brought into my life. Thank you for knowing who you are. Thank you for the new music you have singing in my head.