Most mornings are the same: I’m out of bed at 4:20 a.m., putting on my exercise clothes before heading over to the local YMCA to complete my “macho” workout in about an hour. I figure the time spent running on a treadmill, lifting weights and doing those god-awful abdominal crunches will keep mortality at bay, allow me to eat and drink to my heart’s content, and see my children well into their adult years.
After completing my exercises, it’s off to a nearby convenience store to purchase a copy of The New York Times before returning home to take my wife to the train station. (In case you’re curious, The Chicago Tribune, The Daily Herald and The Wall Street Journal are home delivered.) Our sons usually join us for this ride and receive mom’s usual admonitions, which include behaving like the well-mannered boys they’re expected to be. Once at the station, she hugs them, telling them how much they’re loved.
Back home – it’s not even 7 a.m. yet – the boys eat breakfast while I tend to shaving, showering and dressing. An hour later, the kids are dressed, their teeth are brushed, and we’re out the door again. The younger son, attending a junior kindergarten program, is the first to be dropped off.
I take him into his classroom, get him peed and his hands washed before giving him lots of hugs and kisses, telling him he’s great and loved. Once out of the building, I turn to his classroom window, wave good-bye and blow a few kisses his way. From what I understand, it eases his transition to his teachers’ care and provides the impetus he needs to start playing with his classmates
The older one, now a first grader, and I soon find ourselves sitting in a coffee shop, working on his reading skills. This lasts for about 45 minutes and gives him just enough time to read about 10 pages of a book he checked out from the school library. This exercise usually involves further memorization of words he already knows and expanding his vocabulary by sounding out words that are new to him.
This daily habit can be fraught with frustration. In the beginning, there were days he refused to read. So instead of becoming angry, I took a different approach. “We’re not doing this for my benefit,” I told him. “We’re doing this for yours. If you want to learn how to read, you better start reading this book.”
That message worked and, in the 10 weeks we’ve been at this exercise, I’ve seen dramatic improvements in his reading skills. Not only that, but his confidence and enthusiasm for reading show through so much so that he enjoys showing off new words he can read. It’s especially exciting if it’s a compound word.
Our time with one another also gives me a chance to pick up new details about his young life and answer his questions, which lately have included inquiries about people’s gaits, wishing wells (the restaurant has one, sort of), election results, football and whatever else happens to be on his mind.
Like all the parents who’ve preceded me and those who will succeed me, I begin to realize the limits of my influence. Our elder son, only six, is clearly growing up and doesn’t need us like he used to. He will experience many of life’s trials and tribulations without our interpretation. Not that we’re shy about expressing our opinions to him but we also know he needs to experience life sometimes without the benefit of our experience. Because if he doesn’t, he may never become the well-adjusted, self-sufficient adult he needs to be.
This is a difficult moment for any concerned parent: It’s that time when you realize that your once little, helpless, bundle of joy, who can now walk, talk and think on their own, is working as hard to be as independent from you as you once did from your own parents. It’s that alarming moment, a day of reckoning if you will, when you realize you now understand all the concerns and worries your parents once had for you – and may still have in spite of the many years you’ve been alive.
Before long, we’ve left the coffee shop and find ourselves at school. Given the weather, I, along with all of the other parents, pull up as close as possible to the entrance so he has a short walk into the building. I get out the van, help him with his backpack and give him two bags, one filled with snow-pants, the other with boots. He always seems overloaded.
Before he leaves my presence, I tell him I love him, how smart he is, and to learn a lot in school. He says good-bye, turns around and waddles toward the door. I usually remain standing next to the van, until I see he’s safely inside the building. Call me overprotective. I’ll plead guilty to the charge.
As he’s making his way toward the door, his pace quickens and this look of confidence comes across his face. He’s ready for whatever challenge awaits him. All at once, I’m overwhelmed with a deep sense of pride and a longing for days since past. I’m suddenly jolted into realizing that our little Buckaroo is growing up faster than I prefer. And the same thing happens every morning – tears fill my eyes.