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by Brian Doyle
We will walk up to the bus in four minutes, not 10 or 80. Here are your lunches. Here are your backpacks. Where are your shoes? No, you cannot wear one sneaker and one shoe. Why? Because your mother says so. If it was up to me you could wear anything you like. You could wear pillowcases and pumpkin-shells and pants made of feathers. But mom is the boss of haberdashery for reasons that are murky. Why? That is an excellent question. Three minutes! Keep your voices down! Remember that we are letting mom sleep this morning! Yes, you have to brush your teeth. Why? Because if you do not brush them you will have wolverine breath. One of your uncles, I name no names, had wolverine breath and when he breathed on plants they died instantly and your grandfather finally rented him out as a brush-clearing service. You do not want that to happen. Where is your science notebook? In the tree fort? Why is it in the tree fort? The trees are reviewing your report on trees? Go and get it right this minute! Yes, I will talk to the trees later about this. Two minutes! If you cannot finish your toast give it to the crows. Yes, crows love toast. Yes, they told me so. They leave little menu cards on the porch for me every morning. They are total addicts for eggs with hollandaise sauce. Do you know how hard it is to get hollandaise sauce exactly right? It is very hard. Yes, I will show you the menu cards later. No, crows do not have good handwriting. Remember that they do not have fingers, as such. We are getting distracted here. One minute! Line up by the back door! No, you do not have to line up in age order. Line up by the rotundity of your heads, or by your relative grasp of higher epidemiology. Yes, I am just kidding. Are we ready? Where’s the dog? No, he cannot go with you to school today. Why can’t he go today? Because he is grounded after the incident with the dog next door. What did he do? I will tell you when you are a sophomore in college and not before. I hear the bus! Let’s go! Go go go! Wait wait wait! Look both ways! Yes, I am right behind you. The fact is that we will be right behind you your whole blessed lives, I hope. We want you to run ahead, we want you to lose sight of us, but to do so eagerly and cautiously at once, does that make sense? Sail and soar but watch where you are going and look both ways and remember occasionally that I am back here at the bottom of the hill watching anxiously but trying not to shout corrective remarks because you are going to have to maneuver for yourself and live your own life and make mistakes and get hurt and get up again and forge ahead bravely and there’s nothing I can do about this but stand here with my heart in my mouth hoping for the best, hoping for your safety and health and joy and peace, hoping you live your life with an electric verve that is stunning and moving to watch. Yes, you can wear whatever you want when you are older. Yes, you still have to brush your teeth twice a day minimum. No, you do not have to hold my hand anymore when we are walking. You can run ahead free and untrammeled and on your own volition to whatever healthy destination you like. I wish you would hold my hand again, though. Sometimes I wish that more than anything. Sometimes I wish that you would reach unconsciously for my hand with utter absolute, unwavering, unerring trust, like you used to when we walked to the bus, or the park, or along the beach, scuffing the surf. But it’s okay that you don’t. Really. It’s good that you don’t, probably. It means that you are running in your own direction and maybe it means that your mother and I did okay in raising you to be confident and free and able to sprint toward who you might be at your best. If we are so happy for you, then why are we sometimes a little sad? That is an excellent question. I will explain later. Much later, when you are us.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland and the author of various books.