The backyard this year is full of birds, more species at one time than I remember. They build nests, lay eggs that turn into young birds, and one day the young are gone. I wonder whether the mom and dad birds find themselves stretched between “get out and make a world” and “there’s still so much you need to learn.”
When our son graduated high school in 1991, he was already 18. He left our home for a few weeks, and came back, and stayed long enough for us to have a few skirmishes about whose castle is this, anyway, now the junior male resident was officially an adult.
One afternoon he was preparing to wash clothes, and as he passed me I told him which soap to use and how much.
“I think I know how to wash clothes,” he said, in that voice somewhere between self-assurance and “get off my back, Dad.”
Yes, he did know how, but me being Dad and he being the kid – even when they’re 18, they’re still our kids – I thought I had to remind him.
A week or two later he announced he was going to live with his grandparents. He did pretty well, too. That was just out of the decade of Ronald Reagan, in the aftermath of the dot-com crashes and nationwide economic bust that resulted one day in Democratic Sen. George Mitchell being able to boast he had pushed through an additional 26 weeks of unemployment compensation for the millions of out-of-work citizens.
One night the boy called to say, “I don’t know what all the complaining is about, Dad. They say there are no jobs, but I’ve got three of them.”
We all had a laugh. At 18 and single, he was having fun working at a series of convenience stores, and spending the money on girls.
But soon there was one girl, and then a wedding, and, in due time, a daughter.
His voice changed as the Great Day approached. He wouldn’t have noticed it, but we did. Over the phone, he morphed from a young man married to his girlfriend to a husband and dad. The morning he called to say Morgan Taylor had arrived, it was a whole different young man on the other end of the phone line than had left home.
He finally settled on being a plumber. A good one, too, by all accounts. I visited a few years ago and was walking the collie that accompanied me nearly everywhere. We passed a house where another resident let her dog out for a morning romp, and she asked where I was from.
I told her Gettysburg, and she said her plumber’s father was a newspaper editor in Gettysburg. I replied I knew the name, and the fellow was a pretty good reporter, but not an editor. She went on to puff my chest with brags about her plumber, who lived on the next street over. Finally, I had to admit the plumber was my son, and I the newspaper guy who wasn’t an editor.
It’s wonderful to listen to someone you don’t know bragging about how well the son she doesn’t know is yours turned out – the one who, when he was 14, you and his mom were not sure which of you would not survive to his fifteenth birthday.
In another year, the twins arrived, but they are matter for another tale. This one is about Morgan Taylor, who has been an Honor Society student, German exchange participant, and star soccer player. She turned 18 last month, graduated high school last weekend, and starts college in the fall. She’ll live at school, and Dad’s already going through withdrawal.
I’d like to be a robin outside the window the day she tells him, “I think I know how to wash clothes, Dad.”
We’ll laugh at the echo, knowing there’s still so much she needs to learn, and how proud we all are of how much she already has done.