There's a volcano in our basement. It was finished last night by our youngest son, who, given the project, you might guess is in second grade. But he's not. He's a senior in high school. Everything in its time, right? As the sage once said, if you don't make your volcano in elementary school, you will. When the time is right.
Riley has always done things in his time. And now it's his time to graduate from high school. It's his time to work, to go to college, to fall in love, to have lavish dreams and to awaken in the morning with the ability to act on them.
It's also, through no fault of his own and only by virtue of the cosmic order of things, his time to turn our home into that thing called an empty nest. We're at the finish line of an obstacle course I barely remember starting.
Parenthood is a marketing tool for clichés. All of which come true before your very eyes. The marquee clichés for parents are: 1) it goes fast, and 2) be careful what you wish for.
When they wouldn't sleep as infants I wished they would get older and give me back my Saturday mornings. When they demanded to be read to at night, nights that would come at the end of a long workday, I sometimes wished they were old enough to read to themselves. When they played soccer or had swim meets or music recitals, I wished for a weekend where I could do nothing at all.
That weekend is here. And there's nothing to do to change it.
I'm an emotional hoarder. It's probably no healthier than the regular kind of hoarder, the dude with stacks of old phone books in his dining room. I have drawers full of ticket stubs from movies and concerts we all attended. Music programs. Old poems and notes. I have about 20 saved phone messages on my work line that go back a dozen years. It's a hassle when it comes time to review them, but they never fail to make me smile.
My latest hoarding habit even creeps me out a little. About 25 text messages. Messages that run the range from an unintentional piece of perfect prose written by our oldest son by way of saying he was running late to a message from our youngest announcing what his college choice was.
I should say I had these texts. I had them until, appropriately enough, Riley's last school event, a recent senior awards night at the East auditorium. Sitting there in the dark, searching for a message from a friend, I accidentally deleted them all. Bang. Gone.
There's a volcano in our basement. It's ready to blow. It's filled with skinned knees and hot tears. It's filled with bikes and Halloween costumes and fishing poles. It's filled with grandparents and first boyfriends. It's filled with guitars and voices and banjos and ukuleles. It's filled with the laughter of our children's friends. It's filled with the souls of two kids who didn't make it this far.
It's filled with profound gratitude that our children have.
And look. They have our smiles. They have our sense of humor. They have some of our best instincts as well as some of our most destructive impulses. And now? They have our address.
On the day your baby comes, few people have previously met the R.N. who cares for you in the hospital. Until two weeks before your wedding, most people have never met the florist who does the flowers for your reception. Not many are familiar with the funeral home lady who takes care of your mother's arrangements. When you reach the most important corners of your life, you're surrounded by strangers.
That doesn't appear to be the case with the empty nest. This is different. Here you can stand in the warm, high grass of friendships you've grown over all the years at bus stops, soccer sidelines, choir concerts. And, if things work out a certain way, you may be standing with the person who helped you start the whole nest to begin with. Look! He or she is over there now, eyes turned down, hopes turned up, just like when you first met.
Nobody knows what they're doing when they become a parent. They make it through the way survivors of a shipwreck see land and swim there. There are no guarantees, but I hope we make it through the empty nest thing in exactly the same way.