My daughter is sitting in the living room assembling a Lego set while singing a tune. The set has nearly 1,000 pieces. It isn’t presenting much of a challenge. She’s cheerful and full of melody as she works.
My son, he’s in the other room reading a book. A thick book, with words. Lots of words. A thick book.
I didn’t tell them to do these things.
— § —
We began the morning by de-decorating.
Okay, actually we began the morning with the handoff. Dad drives to mom’s house. The kids are finishing breakfast. There is chat. Everyone is pleasant. They get up from the table and put on their clothes. We all tell jokes. We talk about our pets, and about literature. Mom asks dad about work. Dad asks mom about comic books when she was a child.
It’s all normal. The kids are as comfortable as any kids anywhere. Eventually, they get dressed. We all get into dad’s car and we drive back to dad’s house.
Dad gets down to de-decorating. They help out here and there. At length, they drift into their own activities, happy and content.
— § —
Around the holidays, this old house becomes laden with hooks. You know the ones—they’re made by some plastic company or other, and they have foam pads on the back with which you stick them to walls.
The idea is that they’re easy to remove—you pull on the foam pad, which extends just a bit beyond the hooks, and slowly, slowly they stretch. Then, suddenly, snap! They’re off the wall.
The stockings and their hooks—down. The wreaths and bells and their hooks—down. The hooks remaining on the ceiling from October’s Hallowe’en decorations—down. One by one, the hooks of the fall and late year seasons come down, and another year is retired.
— § —
Without thinking much about what I was doing after the final hook, I moved a yard to the left and began to fidget with the foam on other plastic attachments—not quite hooks—on closet doors. The cleaning closet. Then, the bathroom cabinet.
These bits of plastic didn’t have little foam tabs extending outward from behind them, but these days I carry a Swiss Army knife with me and while absent-mindedly hearing my daughter sing and not hearing my son quietly read, I wedged the blade in and cut through the foam adhesive pads holding them to the doors.
They popped off and I began using my fingers to rub and scrape off the residue, bit by bit. It came away cleanly.
“That was easier than I thought it would be,” I said to myself.
Then, I stopped and looked at the doors, and at my hands.
— § —
These last items for removal, they are the child locks.
You know the ones—they keep little crawlers from opening the doors that lead to cleansers, and bleaches, and toilet brushes. They close things. They create strange spaces that no longer properly exist within the comfort of a home, send them outside time, into the future, to some unknown day in the future, in fact, when such locks will no longer be needed and the spaces in question will return, with a kind of redemption, as though they’d never gone.
That day is, apparently, today.
For years and years—eight of them, I suppose—those locks have been there, always. They became invisible, an unquestioned part of the business of the everyday, like air or the floor underneath you.
I hadn’t noticed their existence in years.
Now, suddenly, they’re gone.
It’s time for them to be gone, after all. No one has been stopped by them for ages and ages. I mean, the kids don’t crawl any longer. Crawling is this hazy memory, like something from another life. No, they walk. They ride bicycles. They make themselves sandwiches and vacuum their own bedroom.
— § —
At the outset—of your own life, and of theirs—early childhood is forever.
At the other end, it’s done. It passes, unseen and unheard, into an unsettled genre of legend.
My children have had a wonderful childhood and a terrible one. They have been blessed and they have been cursed. Loving parents—who divorced. First-world plenty—marred by the excess and strange kids of discipline that come from having to maintain two sets of everything, from having to remember which winter coat and hat belong at mom’s house and which coat and hat belong at dad’s house.
Their early childhoods have been times and places of very real happiness, and very real pain.
But what is now most real of all is the fact of them. Their early childhoods are concrete, completed. Facts. Not environs. Not possibilities. Not futures yet to be written.
— § —
Whatever we as parents may have intended, our children have had their early childhoods and finished with them.
Their completed reality is a reality of divorce, of multiple homes, of strained conversations and of many wonderful moments always marked nonetheless by a strange surplus of people in them and too little time to live them before the two most important adults in their lives need to separate once again—and go in unavoidably different directions.
It’s all done with; it’s all just memory now. It is what it unquestionably was. That is a bewildering reality to sit with, to take in.
— § —
I took the child locks down, every single one of them, and threw them in the waste bin under the kitchen sink, just like that.
Just like that.
I can’t say the house looks any different at a glance. These little details of life aren’t the sort of thing that busy adults notice.
Reality marches on, undeterred and unsentimental.
— § —
The Lego set has been completed. She’s built a series of three birds with little plaques showing their scientific names in binomial nomenclature. My daughter quietly took them and put them on the mantlepiece above the fireplace, and moved on to other activities.
My son is still reading because the book is a long one.