As the door slowly opens, light from the hallway begins to spill into the room and lands on a disheveled head of sandy brown hair barely visible under the covers. The deck of an aircraft carrier couldn’t be much louder than the nasal blasts emanating from this child right now. Her future spouse will certainly need to sleep with noise canceling headphones or likely in a separate room. I have been awake for all of 3 minutes. You see, experience has taught me that unless I wake Sunshine up before the rooster crows we face the likelihood of being rushed, possibly late for school, with the potential of everyone being in a grumpy mood as a result. But as Sunshine so eloquently has explained to me
“Daddy, sometimes a girl needs to take her time”.
Well said my dear and time you shall have, even if that means I must get up 30 minutes earlier than I normally would (the sacrifices that a father must make).
On this particular Monday morning, I leave Sunshine to begin her regiment to prepare for school while I make my way downstairs to check email, inspect book bags, and prepare lunches. Before long, noticing that it is now time to get her brother, Bubba, up and going (he has his father’s ability to get ready in under five minutes so he reaps the benefit of more sleep); I poke my head into Sunshine’s room to find her putting on socks, bed already made, and a stuffed backpack on the floor. She looks at me, sensing that I’ll ask how things are progressing, and says
“Daddy, I’ve already packed my suitcase”
While beaming with pride at her proactivity these words hit me with an immediate rush of emotion, as it was a startling reminder of how different her life is. Living out of a suitcase isn’t reserved for the frequent business flier, for my children it is a cold hard reality. I often wonder how they will come to define ‘home’ as they get older? Will they ever have a real sense of what that idea is supposed to mean? Or will they simply view home as as dwelling and a place to lay their head?
We’ve lived this ping-pong life for as long as they can remember, going from the days of cribs and diapers to the those of football games and dance recitals. They have absolutely no memory of a prior existence outside of this living arrangement, it’s all they have ever known, it’s their ‘normal, and as strange as this is going to sound I’m thankful for that. Knowing anything more would make it all the more difficult. So yes, sometimes ignorance is bliss.
Over the past six years I have experienced every conceivable emotion that a father can after realizing that he will not have a traditional relationship with his children, that informal milestones will be missed because they don’t happen on my weekend. My feelings range from annoyance at having to go back and forth to deep sorrow that I can’t see them every day. But occasionally the reality of our circumstance hits me in the face like a dam that’s suddenly burst and, similar to a small town in the barrier’s shadow, my spirit gets washed away in the onslaught. This specific morning was one of those times as our reality came rushing in that the past weekend together was temporary and tonight they will step back in other lives and resume other routines they left the previous Friday, like an actor playing dual roles.
During Valentine’s dinner with Sunshine this week, I watched as a family ate their meal while completely ignoring each other, choosing instead to occupy their time with cell phones apps and video games. At first I thought how fortunate those parents are to see their children everyday. Then my envy turned to pity as I realized how much they are taking for granted, and I pondered how their perspective might change if their time suddenly became court mandated. Because moments with my children are counted in hours, days, and weekends, I’ve learned to maximize what we have together, but regardless of how much fun we have or how deeply we bond as a family the reality always remains that all to soon Sunshine and Bubba will pack their suitcase once again.