I was supposed to be packing for vacation, but instead stood staring at a collection of plastic stones strewn across the floor of the upstairs hallway. Occasionally people think that with four boys and a stay-at-home dad in the house, my sons might need exposure to the feminine side of life. They give us “girl toys.” This time it was a handful of play jewelry: large, fake, gaudy gemstones strung into necklaces and bracelets. For months they laid around the house, ignored, until Adam discovered they made effective flails and, twirling a necklace around his head like David charging Goliath, chased his brothers from room to room until the string snapped, the gems flew Helter Skelter, and Adam found other things to do.
Looking down at the gems scattered around my beloved, self-installed hardwood floors, I suppressed the urge to unleash upon my children all the frustration built up while attempting to pack for a week at the beach amidst this circus of life. I had a rare moment of clarity, and became keenly aware that someday I will look down at these same floors, likely more scratched, and there will be no toys lying about, no thundering herds to dodge, no kamikaze yells, or cries of foul play. Someday, I will wake up. The house will be empty. I will be old. I will stand in the silence and feel that hard, yearning ache for what is no more. I know that. I think that fact lives in the back of my mind every moment of every day. At the end of this extended fracas, a long empty quiet awaits. Someday, my sons, you will be gone, and I will miss you.
I will miss you because my memory is a lazy, half-potent thing. I will remember riding behind you up the bike path to the park in the warm glow of the evening, every moment passing in slow motion. I won’t remember that it was the year I finally committed to my bucket list bicycling event, and had walked in the door after a 50-mile training ride to hear, “Daddy, will you take me for a ride too?” I won’t remember the aching pain in my legs and desperate heaving of my lungs as I struggled to keep pace with a 9-year old.
I will remember the cool, breezy afternoon when we read stories on the deck hammock of the beach house, the pale blue sky streaked with white clouds, reaching down to the ragged green shrubs that rambled haphazardly over the dunes, highlighted against the bright pop of the pastel and florescent beach towels hanging to dry on the rail. I’ll remember the gentle rocking as you crawled onto my stomach, though you were far too big for such a childish thing, tucked your head into the crook of my arm, and fell asleep. I will forget my growing, urgent need for a restroom, the way my hand went numb under your weight, and the purple, painful, rope shaped marks, dug deep into my arm when you finally stirred.
I will remember the afternoons meant for chores, but spent teaching you to play chess, your chin tucked into your tiny hands, stubby fingers curled in front of your mouth, and your brow, too young to furrow but doing its best as you pondered the puzzle of your first move. I will forget the tears, the frustration, the awkward rhythm of play as you made, then reversed, move after move after move. I will forget the piles of unwashed dishes and laundry, the lawn grown long and ragged, and the tensions in the home created when the necessary was overlooked to waste away hours on a game you could not yet understand.
I will remember these things with my hobbled memory, and I will miss you; but not today. For today I am harried by the truth of life with you, the constant demands for my attention, the inability to complete a task as simple as shaving without interruption, the incessant cries of “Daddy!” minute after minute, requests to meet an unreasonable desire, mediate an unnecessary conflict, locate a neglected object; and the inevitable “but” greeting every word to leave my mouth. In fact, I cannot even write these words without part of my attention tracking you around the room, stopping one of you from sneaking a treat, another from emptying the tissue container, and the final two from murdering one another in a dispute over a cheap toy car. Yes, someday I will stare into your empty rooms and miss you; but not today. Today, in spite of myself, I cannot wait.
Nathan Hackman is a stay-at-home dad to four boys, one with cerebral palsy. He writes about the amazing adventure of parenting with a few extra challenges. In his free time he . . . doesn’t have free time.