Weekday mornings, if I’m in the kitchen with my coffee at the right time, I’ll hear a familiar sound coming from the stop sign at the corner. And an entire era of my life replays in my head.
It’s the sound of squeaky brakes on a school bus. If I time it right, I can either look out the window to see the bus, or see its flashing lights dance off my living room walls. Sometimes I just hear the brakes, and then it’s gone.
For several years, that sound meant one of three things — my sons were at the corner en route to high school; they missed the bus because they were still getting ready in a sleepy fog and would need a ride; or they were at their mom’s house, meaning my house was empty and quiet.
Emptiness. The nest has been officially empty for a few years now, my three boys now young men on their own, following their bliss, doing well and doing good.
Their absence, and the quiet that accompanies it, are the norm except at holidays or occasional visits. I miss having them around, and the times we are together are usually festive and occasionally raucous. I am often not the most responsible adult in the room.
I don’t consciously await the 6:50 a.m. school bus any more. So the mornings I do hear it, the sound grabs me and takes me back.
It’s comforting, yet there’s a twinge of sadness. That’s not unusual, I suppose, when parents see, hear or feel something that recalls the blur of diapers, day care, play dates, lunch-making, teachers’ conferences, practices and games, concerts, girlfriends, cars, jobs, parties . . .
With my boys gone, every time I encounter a mom or dad with a little one, I tell them, almost evangelically: “Yes, it’s a cliche, but it’s true! Enjoy them while you can! Hang onto them for dear life — it’s over before you know it, and they’re gone!”
And on and on. The polite ones smile, then go back to their screaming toddler who is tired, wet, hungry or just wants to be anywhere else at that moment.
Yes, it’s all true. Everything the books say, everything the “experts” tell you, it’s all true. It’s there, and it’s gone. Enjoy — better yet, appreciate — being a parent. Some of it is brutal, honestly, and you give up a lot of yourself to do it right.
And then, one morning . . . you wake up in the dark, put on the coffee and hear a school bus at the corner.