Musician Jason Isbell recently released a new album, Reunions. As usual, as I listened from start to finish, I was moved with emotion, deep thoughts and tears. The last track of the album, Letting You Go, caught me by surprise and left me with tears streaming down my cheeks. In a love letter to the young daughter he and wife, incredible artist in her own regard, Amanda Shires, raise together, Isbell’s lyrics and emotion nails what almost every parents struggles with: learning to let go of their children as they grow older and more independent and begin to live lives of their own.
And we’ll walk down the aisle and I’ll give you away
I wish I could walk with him
Back through your life to see
Every last minute of every last day
To hear your first words, and to feel your first heartbreak
To sing you to sleep when you’re scared of the dark
The best I can do
Is to let myself trust that you know
Who’ll be strong enough to carry your heart
The roses just know how to grow
It’s easy to see that you’ll get where you’re going
But the hard part is letting you go
The hard part is letting you go”
In what seem like a moment in time, my to kids have gone from just being born yesterday to being a fourteen year old girl, Aurora Eva Rose, and a sixteen year old young man named Graham Ronald. I can remember vividly what the weather was like on each of the days they were born, the nerves coursing through our veins as we waited for the doctor to come, the operating room sights and smells and what they looked like at the moment they were born. Two small baby yodas with fine hair on top, wrinkled faces and closed eyes. With no guidebook, just doing the best we could, we took them home, driving slowly with delicate packages bundled in the back seat and made the best home we could.
As hard as veteran parents made it sound, if it had only been that hard. You just don’t know until you experience it directly and stand in those shoes. Days, weeks and months passed, each bringing new stages of eating, sleeping, sickness, teething, walking and talking. As they got older and mobile, we were always looking for fun adventures and new experiences so we could watch the wonder in their new, clear and bright blue eyes.
The first four or five years with each, time seemed to slow down regardless of work and life’s other obligations and duties. Small moments stretched on forever whether in the bath tub, reading time every night before bed, walks in the neighborhood and swinging at the park. Small routines turned into treasures as they sat in my lap to get dressed every day, tying of shoes or at least fastening the velcro, carrying them from the house to the car seat and into the daycare and setting them down while they eyed the classroom to see what friends were there that day, pushing them in the grocery shopping cart as we eased down the aisles with our grocery list, and just watching as they learned to walk up and down stairs, open the sliding doors and peer out the windows at the great big world outside.
Daycare days passed into kindergarten and elementary school and that’s when time appeared to speed up and those slow moments went by quicker and quicker. It’s the little things you don’t notice at first that start to change. Like not getting a hug everyday when you dropped them off at school, being too embarrassed to be seen giving dad a hug with their friends watching. Like not holding their hands every moment as you walked them up the sidewalk to the school door, no longer being able to walk into the building and escorting them to their classroom. Like them getting dressed on their own and not sitting in my lap to put their clothes and shoes on. Like sitting next to them during reading time instead of them sitting on my knees. Things change little by little as they become more independent and self-sufficient.
One of the saddest days of my life was taking my daughter Rory to her last day of 5th grade at South Prairie Elementary. I always walked her from the car to the sidewalk and then she would walk the rest of the by herself through the front door and into the school. Next year would be 6th grade at Sycamore Middle School and I knew the routine would change to just a quick drop off at the entryway from the car. I had been taking her to daycare and school for close to ten years and knew this was the last time I’d walk at least part way with her before she started her daily routine. It might seem like a small thing to some but I knew it was the end of one era and the beginning of something new and exciting for her.
After school days, evenings and weekends were filled with adventures and good experiences shared as a family. Movies, parks, bike rides, go karts, baseball, golf, trips to the library, swimming, and many more, stretching on from one day to the next. Moments I’ll carry with me forever even if they don’t necessarily remember them all and that’s OK.
The years have come and gone, quicker with each successive passing and circumstances have changed all of us. The deaths of beloved family members and pets and other life changing events teach one how quickly life passes and to make the most of the time we have here on earth. In short, my son and daughter have been two incredible companions on this part of the ride and I am forever grateful and blessed to have them in my life. I don’t need anyone else to tell me how hard I’ve tried to be a good father and a good partner in raising two beautiful, healthy, funny and kind human beings. The best things we can leave behind in life are family and friends who we have helped along the way and to leave the best parts of ourselves with them. It’s the only way to make the world a better place. I know once they graduate from high school and enter college or whatever they want to do, things will continue to change and I’ll have to let go even more which breaks my heart. But I know it’s part of them growing older and developing into their own lives and selves and look forward to seeing the type of people they grow into and all the great things they hope to accomplish. And they know I will always be right here and if they ever need me, they can just call my name.
Recently, due to health concerns, I’ve started walking for an hour a day. It’s on my daily treks, I can disconnect from the news and dark times surrounding us now, breathe some fresh air and clear my head. Beginning in April, as I step out onto my front porch, a family of robin’s was busy at work building a nest, little by little, blade of grass by blade of grass, right on top of the light fixture to the left of my door. With each passage in and our of the door, the robins scatter and nestle on a tree branch close by, checking me out closely. In late May, mama robin stayed in the nest no matter how many times I went in and out of the door 12 inches from her home. As the days passed, I heard sharp chirping and realized mama had some chicks nestled below her feathered breast. A few weeks later, I could see 4 outstretched necks beckoning mama to bring them lunch and dinner. And then just a few weeks later, the birds were all gone, sprung from their nest and swooping among the nearby trees. I stood on a chair to make sure it was empty and little pang of sadness went through me and I wished them well. Come back next year mama if you need a warm dry home. And then last week, on my way back up the driveway after a sweaty, extended walk, there on my front porch stood a small robin with molted feathers on its’ wings and head. I stopped to see what was wrong and the small bird looked up at the nest a few times, perhaps he had been distanced from mama or maybe she just wanted to take one more look at her former home before spreading it’s wings, taking flight and soaring for higher points above. With a small chirp and a jerk of its head, it sprang from it’s position, spread it still developing small wings and flew into a sunny blue sky.