Children leaving the nest no longer comes all at once. And so you would think that with all the many comings and the goings, I would be more immune to such departures. But, if anything, they seem to be hitting me harder of late—maybe because I now know that such leave takings aren’t so temporary anymore, more goings than comings. Not to mention that the transition of having them return, especially for any prolonged period of time can be an equally difficult one—for both parties, I’m sure. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. It’s one thing to parent kids when they live in your house, still willing to tolerate your parenting and quite another when they don’t want to be parented at all anymore. Ever. Even the mild rebuke of could you please put your dishes in the dishwasher can turn into an epic, or, at the very least, eye-rolling struggle. So what wisdom, if any, have I gleamed from all this, this being demoted to a part-time parent? Maybe it’s that grown children actually still want you to be their parents, after all, even if they won’t admit it—with one important caveat: they only want you to still parent when they want you to, sort of like the old motto we’ve now come to frown upon, the one about children being seen but not heard. Only now it’s the kids wanting their parents to be seen and not heard. But that doesn’t mean I’m exactly off-duty either. Like a part-time fireman, I still have to be on call, ready and willing to answer the bell should it ring and put out all fires, no questions asked.
And speaking of fires, there were a few to put out this past summer when we were away overseas for a month, just my wife and I—the longest vacation we’d ever taken without either of our two children since our honeymoon when we, of course, couldn’t have invited them along even if we had wanted to. (And I think it goes without saying that we wouldn’t have wanted to.) Now, some twenty-seven years later, there were Viber texts and Skypes and google phone calls that had to happen that second because someone was trying to decide that second between this or that internship, or someone else needed this or that flight changed that second and somehow wasn’t quite sure how to do this when frequent flyer miles were involved. These things happen, of course. Just like concussion scares sometimes do, when somebody’s boyfriend has inadvertently hit his girlfriend with a paddle while windsurfing on some lake in Canada. But they sometimes happen a lot more with our family than with others, although my wife likes to point out that I don’t always hear about such common snafus from other families because most don’t go around bragging about them or sharing them in blogs like some other certain family members have started to do.
Anyway. It all, somewhat miraculously, got taken care of without us there: the decisions about this or that internship; which study abroad classes to take and not take; the rescheduling of Visa application appointments and, yes, Visa arriving in our mailbox in the nick of time before the late-summer departure date. Moments after I watched our youngest walk through security at Logan with her passport and Visa hopefully somewhere there in her carry on bag, off to officially begin yet another big adventure that wouldn’t include me, I was struck equally by how old and how young she seemed. (This didn’t stop me from checking the flight departure time one last time on the way out and noticing that the gate for her flight had changed and therefore felt the need to quickly text her the new gate number, to which she texted back: “I know. I’ll be fine. Don’t worry!”) Such confusion about her age, my age, my role, her role, more and more time passing every single moment, and how many more moments will go by in the next few months for her that I won’t know a thing about, all led to my standard weeping in public, which entails silently tearing up and trying to hide it from others as I slide on sunglasses and walk quickly out of airports wiping snot from my nose. But, as I’ve often told my children, this too shall pass. And it did. Soon enough, I was pretty much good to go again, already starting to look forward to the peace and quiet of a children-less house, all those hours on the couch with the dog watching the Celtics.
And so, cut to me, doing just that: settling into this new/old, familiar/unfamiliar part-time parenting life again when I suddenly started to wonder where my youngest child’s bike was. A strange thought to be having but there it was. Or there it had been on one of my recent trips to the garage to throw out the trash. I should quickly explain that we live in the small college town where my daughter happens to go to college and one of the main reasons why she had decided to spend not one, but two semesters abroad, having left with her passport, computer and enough clothes to last her three years abroad but without accounting for the whereabouts of her very expensive bicycle. If it hadn’t occurred to me standing there in the garage, counting the number of bicycles there (or rather not there I should say), it certainly would have never occurred to her. When I did finally get a Viber text in response to my query regarding where her bike might be, she suggested I “check” her dorm of last year, conveniently providing me with the pass code so as to make breaking in and “looking around for it” much easier.
Only last semester’s pass code didn’t work so well this year. Turns out they change such things. So after loitering around for a few minutes for a random student to come walking along and let me follow them into their dorm after I explained, of course, my confusing reasons for wanting to do so (note to self: better to approach a boy student than a girl one in such instances), I spent about twenty minutes looking in every basement, storage room, crawl space I could think of where the bike might possibly be hiding before finally giving up.
Only I couldn’t give up. This was my daughter’s bike, a relatively new, very nice bike I should add, an expensive birthday or Christmas present of just a couple years ago. To make a long story just a little bit shorter, I ended up at Security, a busy place at the beginning of a semester for those who have never been there before as there are a lot of students getting their ID photos taken, and very few fathers, I might add, trying to track down their daughter’s missing bicycles. But after filling out some paper work and giving a description of the missing bike—a woman’s Royal Blue Cannondale still worth about $500—I was soon instructed to show up at a garage at another secret locale on campus where I met up with yet another security person who opened the garage up for me. And lo and behold, among the hundreds of other unclaimed and “lost” or simply “left behind” bikes, there was my daughter’s bike, looking as spiffy as I’d remembered it looking despite such recent neglect.
Though I’d wanted to complain about having spent two-plus hours on all of this in the middle of my workweek, I knew better than to try and “guilt-trip” my daughter. And the truth was there was nothing for her to feel guilty about. To be honest, it had been sort of fun, a good excuse to get out of the office and play Dad detective, the best part being the happy ending part of it all, the fact that my perseverance, not something I’m especially known for, had paid off. Mission, somewhat miraculously, accomplished: me and the unwanted bike reunited. I had come to the rescue and how many times a week can you say that? My text to my daughter was simply: “Got your bike. Not in your dorm. Was in lost and found.” Her response, hours later from far off Vienna, was an even more succinct: “Thank you!” I chose to focus on the exclamation part of this message. She wasn’t merely thanking me in some perfunctory way, but rather THANKING ME, the exclamation mark maybe suggesting, even if only unconsciously, that me at home still being a parent every so often (having her back even when she wasn’t asking me to have it), still meant something to her, after all.
Regardless of her response, the finding it meant something to me. The losing it representing the losing some part of her, her younger, more childish part that liked to ride a bike. Finding it, having it back there in our garage (even if soon to be neglected there as well) just felt better. Felt right. The bike at least, if not my daughter, was back where it belonged, providing a link to her younger self, to all of our younger selves and maybe even suggesting that there would be a time when she will have returned home with a lot more stamps on that passport of hers, wanting to maybe do something spontaneous and girlish like bike to the swimming hole with her Dad, just as we used to sometimes do on hot summer evenings when she was growing up here and spending every single night under our roof instead of just a few.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some basketball to go watch.