Showing up

by Brian Clarey

Time trials for my oldest son’s swim team started Sunday morning at 7:30 and ran until past noon. Then I took his little brother with me to work a stage at the Parisian Promenade until evening set in.

Monday morning I drove the little ones to school before getting ready for work and spent some time with them at home in the early afternoon before I went out on assignment that evening.

On Tuesday I finished up at the office in time to watch the last half of swim practice and drive the swimmer home. Wednesday, there was a school play and an awards ceremony — I managed to get there in time to watch my younger son, in the role of Abraham Lincoln, take his final bow. Today, Thursday, my daughter’s school recognized her for straight As all year through. I caught the very tail end of that one too, in between work engagements.

Tomorrow is the Last Day of School, certainly worthy of celebration, and also a milestone birthday for my oldest, who busts the rank of tweener once and for all when he turns 13. Gonna be cake involved, that’s for sure.

For me, right now, this is what fatherhood looks like:

a pivotal role in a support system for my offspring, now aging into the busy years of their collective childhood. There are lessons and there are sleepovers and there are birthday parties and after-school clubs and (ack!) dates. I play a pivotal role in the logistics and finance departments of this familial enterprise.

The miles roll off on my odometer — out to the school, across to a friend’s house, over to the pool. The dollars, somehow, accumulate for camp, for devices, for musical instruments, for shoes, which these days we burn through as fast as we do juice boxes.

And the days, as they say, go by slowly while the years tick off in a blur.

This is the thick of it: the meat and potatoes of fatherhood — the lawnmower years, where most of the imaginings of the early days, when the wee babes were just wriggling masses of flesh in our arms, have come to pass and what’s left are the troublesome rites of young adulthood, where I understand things really start to jump.

But right now, as a father, I’m starting to find my groove. I’ve been through the diaper phase and worn the baby carrier, carried sleeping toddlers from the car more times than I can count, done hundreds of tuck-ins and dozens of parent-teacher conferences. I can trim the hedges in the morning and cook up a mess of meat on my backyard grill in the afternoon. I’ve given the sex talk, the bully talk, the “permanent-record” talk, the “winning-isn’t-everything” talk. No matter what part of town we are in, I know a place nearby that we can stop for ice cream.

I’ve learned this: From the moment the cord is cut, children become a tiny bit more independent every day. Parents rejoice when a baby starts holding her own bottle or eating solid food. When they get out of diapers it’s like getting a promotion; the onset of school, and the end of daycare, is like getting a raise.

Now my kids have taken the first steps of their individual journeys, and my job as I see it is to help them on their way. Most of that involves simply showing up, and making sure that they show up as well.

Our summer looks to be booking up pretty fast. We’ve got the swim team, guitar and drum lessons, two camps, a weekly family night and maybe a jaunt or two out of town. In between there will be cookouts and play dates and movies and video games and hikes in the woods and maybe one afternoon we’ll all try something new. Been thinking pretty seriously about laser tag lately.

We’ll fit it in around work and other obligations, maintaining our full-bore pace that seems as if it will last until the day the last child packs her things and moves out from under our roof forever. And we’ll cherish it, my wife and I, because we know that day will come more quickly than we want it to.

We know that it wasn’t so very long ago that they were babies, and how soon they’ll be adults.

We know that this is what happens in between.