So what is it I’m expressing today? Well it has to do with the image included with this post. Pretty ordinary, huh? Luggage on a rental car bus. But there is so much more here than what first meets the eye.
See that canvas bag in the middle? That’s mine. It’s seen many miles of travel since when I first purchased it at The Orvis Store (now gone too) in Dayton, Ohio in spring 2008, over nine years ago.
On this trip to Dallas, Texas, to see my oldest daughter Emma graduate from high school, I was noticing all the scratches and stains on this bag and in that noticing came a bittersweet introspection.
You see that particular piece of luggage was purchased just after I had separated from the mother of my daughters, Emma and Chloe, and she and the girls moved to Texas. I stayed in Ohio. My daughters were only six and eight years old at that time.
I didn’t have a clue as to what that next chapter in my life - that of a single dad - would bring and I don’t think much could have prepared me for the experience. And I know nothing in the world could have prepared my daughters for what they were about to go through either.
Nine years and more trips to Dallas than I can remember, from Ohio, and then from South Carolina, and from Ohio again. Rental cars and rooms at the Comfort Suites in Frisco, TX. And my girls flying the unaccompanied minor route back and forth as well. Summers and holidays. Emma living with me for 7th grade in South Carolina and now Chloe in Ohio for her high school years.
It’s not the ideal childhood, not by a long shot, but through it all they’ve both turned out to be awesome young ladies. Smart, determined and full of courage. Adjusting to college will be a breeze for both.
They tell you when your kids are that age - six and eight - don’t blink because the years they spend growing up will flash before your eyes. At that time all I was thinking about is getting through the summer with both safe and happy and making sure they arrived safely back to their mom when they’d return to Texas.
You don’t even realize just how quickly they do grow-up and before you know it you’re on your way to catch a flight back to Ohio after seeing your oldest graduate from high school. It’s at that point - looking at an old piece of luggage across the way - that it hits you.
Damn. How did that happen?!?
I have two more years with Chloe but I’m sure that will fly by even quicker, especially now that I will try to hold onto time even more.
I said it before and I will say it again, parenthood is the great equalizer. When you are there in it you will be humbled away from too much of the self, too much of the past. Kids have a way of keeping things moving in a forward direction, and that’s a good thing.
And I’m guessing that it’s at this point when kids reach this age that parents start to question themselves - “did I do the right thing, was I good mom or dad, could there have been a better way?” I do that a lot in my life. It’s part of coming from a big family that can sometimes be “lovingly critical” and a bit limited in the experiences of single parenthood, but always meaning well. I’ve learned to just accept the fact that even in families separate worlds can peacefully coexist, and that’s cool.
Families have changed since my near-ideal childhood of 1970’s Midwest suburbia. Or at least it looked “near ideal” from my perspective. Is it right to compare one generation of parents to the next? The older and wiser I become I’m thinking not.
It’s like what I just overheard stated by a fellow traveler on my most recent flight from Texas to Ohio, “it is what it is.”
Let the second-guessing go. Smile and nod at the critics. And keep moving forward with that old piece of canvas luggage.
Hearts get worn and stained too but what they carry grows in value that all the gold and silver will never keep up with.
I think about all the times I stressed and worried and occasionally cried goodbye as my girls grew-up from elementary through middle school. It’s a little scary when they’re gone away and I’m sure it was that way for their mother as well.
The journey of parenthood is that great classic that never grows old. Settings and situations may change and distances may be more involved than before, but the reward remains the same.
To love, to make a difference, to grow older and re-prioritize. To let the small stuff fall away and accept the peace in knowing that there is never a need to impress and be overly vain with what is fleeting and shallow. And to have an old, worn piece of luggage to remind me of the miles invested in the soul connection with a child’s heart.
What I was meant to be doing was there for me all along.
Now the real fun begins, as I was reminded by my girlfriend Karen, herself a grandmother. “College, weddings, grandchildren.”
You stop just long enough to notice how far life has taken you and then you keep going, doing the best you can, in life, parenthood and love.