I am defined by what I love. That includes the ritual of getting my son from school.
My son Cole is in second grade. I often drive him to school. In the afternoon I return to wade through the chatting moms in the school gym. My blond boy, with his oversized backpack, appears arm-in-arm with his gang of puppy-dog looking friends. He shakes his teacher’s hand and runs for me.
It’s been one of the single best parts of my adult life. And not just because my favorite radio personality, Mike Felger, is on the Sports Hub for the drive over.
It started after I got divorced a decade and a half ago. I’d pick up my (then) 3-year old son Seamus from nursery school. I’d stopped working in an attempt to ground myself in my kids and a life that had been turned upside down.
The Internet bubble was in full swing then. Every 30 year-old man with an interest in technology was wearing Clark Kent glasses and riding push scooters from one cubicle to the next as they planned the next great petstore.com IPO.
I bought an extra-large carbon fiber “Xootr” scooter. I rode around the back bay of Boston, with my man bag flapping in the wind and this newfangled pager-looking device called a BlackBerry. I was on the board of a fledgling company, Art Technology Group, which would hit it big. But the best part of every day was scooting over to the basement nursery school on Marlborough Street to collect my son at noon (his elder sister went full day).
I’d pile Seamus on the front of the scooter; his hands between mine, feet hanging over the front. We’d roll down the center sidewalk of Commonwealth Avenue through the dog walkers. The squeals of delight coming from that boy between my arms melted that hard-block rock of despair that fills the heart of every divorced dad. His little finger often pointed to a crescent moon so faint in the blue sky I marveled at how he had picked it out.
Like a lot of dads I know, I cherish the sensory experiences of parenting. The feel of my kids’ skin, the smell of their hair, the sound of their snoring sets off a feeling of well-being that is more profound than closing any deal. I think it’s that tactile need for connection that has always made drop-offs and pick-ups so special to me. The feeling of my kids in my arms, the look of innocent joy, the untrammeled energy of a kid released from the classroom for an afternoon of play.
These days I have a daughter who is a freshman in college. Drop off last August was much more emotionally complicated than our morning ritual had been for the many years before. Now I have to rely on video chats and the occasional text message from my budding actress, woman, and scholar.
Seamus is finishing his junior year here in Boston. He has been riding the subway to school for several years now and fashions himself a man of the city, fully independent of his dad. Last summer he had the idea of dressing in Shakespearean garb and reciting love sonnets on the Red Line for money. He figured if he spoke his poems to the prettiest girl on each leg of the journey, he might well make his entrepreneurial venture a romantic one, too. But his job as a tennis pro got in the way.
So that leaves romps down Storrow Drive first thing in the morning, glancing over at the rowers on the Charles River, to my boy Cole and me. In our house I am the pancake maker. One day we ran out of mix, so I madly threw together flour, sugar, oil, eggs, baker power and milk in random quantities. The result was far too many pancakes than Cole and his buddy could scarf down, so I froze the extras. Now, I toast them on weekday mornings and Cole munches on them in the car.
At pick-up, Cole hands me his backpack and gives me a hug, just long enough for me to smell his innocence in my nostrils. Then he’s gone. Running with his pals for the playground.
I make small talk with a gay dad and the moms who are regulars. A couple of weeks ago I was snagged for smoking a cigar on the way to school. “What’s that smell?” a friendly mom asked me, spoiling my Friday afternoon tradition with a guilt-inducing chuckle. And then we are back at the car, a juice box and plastic bag of Cheese-Its set up for my boy to devour the moment he climbs in.
I am often asked what I “do”. In my case that isn’t a simple question given a wide variety of commitments, so I generally answer, “I do pick-up.”
image with permission by MNicoleM