When we moved to Florida, my wife and son went first so I could pack up the house, take care of all the moving arrangements, oversee home repairs, deal with landscaping improvements, etc. They stayed with her parents while I remained in Colorado for a week and a half. My son was about 14 months old at the time, so he was still in his babyhood, moving to toddlerhood (which isn’t really a word). This is one of the reasons why parents refer to their young children’s ages in months: you expect different things from an 8-month-old than an 18-month-old. It makes more sense when it’s personally relevant, like so much else in parenting.
Boxes filled, movers tipped, and all other arrangements made, I drove our SUV to Florida from Colorado, which was rather a long, solitary trip. This took place during Tropical Storm Debbie, which lashed the southeast with torrential rain and wind. After the grueling drive, with an aching back and no sleep and the yearning for family that you experience when you’ve been away for too long, I got to my in-laws’ house very early in the morning. My wife had already left for work, so I went to the guest room where my son lay in his Pack-and-Play (his crib was still in a moving truck somewhere), and I was so happy to see him that I couldn’t speak.
My son, at the time, couldn’t have cared less. He wanted his toys, his breakfast, to be not picked up and cuddled by his father. He cried until I put him down. God, it hurt. I kind of expected it, because he was too young to be aware of the passage of time, but it hurt all the same. I missed him and he didn’t miss me. Some homecoming.
I think it was a year or so later when my wife and I went on a long vacation to some resort or other. (A long vacation by my definition is anything more than three days. Vacations always discomfit me, just a little. I know it’s weird.) We left our son with her parents and did the typical laze-around things one does at an all-inclusive resort: swam in the pool, ate a lot, drank a lot, hung out on the beach, read books, etc. When we got back to my in-laws’, it was around time to wake up our son from his afternoon nap. This is something I remember as clear as I can recall what I had for breakfast today: I went into the darkened bedroom, and there he was in the Pack-and-Play bed. Roused from sleep by the sound of the door opening, my son stood up, with his blond hair all tangled and his striped romper creased, and he saw me, and he smiled, and he said, simply, “Daddy.”
And the wound that he had unknowingly opened in me a year before was healed.
Parenthood is full of these injuries. Some of them heal, some just scab over. It may be that God intended for us to be younger when we’re parents, because it teaches us to be better children while our parents are still alive. I wish I had been a better son, and I try every day to be a good father.
A prior engagement, the details of which I will relate in a future post, kept me away from home when Hurricane Irma struck, and has stranded me for much longer than anyone would like. Pleasantly, my family and house are both in good shape, which is all I can ask for and more than I deserve. I’ll be home soon.
I can’t wait.