A big yellow school bus just pulled up to the front of our house. I was in my office, on this computer, and thought our dog was barking because the mailman had stopped at our mailbox. But when the doorbell rang and I got up from behind my desk, rounded the corner out of my office and looked toward the windowpane in our front door, that big yellow school bus filled it’s frame and an older gentleman holding a clipboard peered back at me.
When he saw me coming that man stepped back, turned away from the door and began marking something on his clipboard. I stepped outside to talk to him, leaving our front door ajar. The dog stopped barking and slinked away to the back of our house, but Archie, Kit and Jack appeared at the top of the steps and raced their way down to the bottom where they crowded into the foyer on the other side of the front door to see what all the noise was about.
The bus driver was riding his route, he explained. He looked at his clipboard, checking his passenger list, and ensured that Archie lives here. Then the man recited the phone number on his list beside Archie’s name and I assured him it was the right one.
“I can’t believe there’s a school bus in front of my house,” I said to fill the silence between the man and myself as he stood close beside me, writing something next to Archie’s name on the passenger list.
“Time flies,” the bus driver replied as he stared off in the direction of the school bus and scratch the top of his ear with his pen.
He said he wasn’t sure what time he’d be by to pick Archie up, but that it would probably be early and he’d get back to me as soon as he figured out his stops. “I’m just out today, riding my route,” he said again before he stepped off my porch and I bid him goodbye.
“Is that my school bus?” Archie wanted to know when I went back inside the house.
“You bet,” I answered and when I did Archie started jumping around.
“My bus! My bus!” Archie sang out as his bare feet made a slap-slap-slapping sound each time he landed flatfooted on the wood-planked floor. His enthusiasm was muted only by Jack’s loud lament that he-wants-to-ride-the-big-yellow-school-bus, too, and-why-is-life-so-unfair-to-him-while-it’s-so-great-to-Archie, whaa-whaa-whaa.
Are you as amused as I am to know Jack sees things this way?
Right this very minute two short-sleeved white knit shirts and two short-sleeved and one long-sleeved white dress shirt with Peter Pan collars are in my washing machine, in the middle of a rinse cycle. These shirts belong to Kit and are part of her school uniform. Kit’s two plaid jumpers and her collection of navy blue pleated skorts and shorts are piled on the floor with Jack’s short-sleeved red knit shirts and navy blue pleated pants and shorts. I haven’t figured out yet what pieces each child is supposed to wear on what day, but I do know I need to have all of this laundry washed and ironed by first thing Monday morning.
On Monday morning Archie will begin first grade and Kit and Jack will begin Kindergarten. Archie is going to public school and Kit and Jack are going to private school, but both places feel like exactly the right ones for each child. I obsessed about Archie, Kit and Jack’s school placements before we committed to them, and I talked out our choices with John and my mom and dad until there was nothing left to say. I admit that there are moments when I can’t believe the twins are no longer preschoolers and I’m suddenly surprised all over again by the fact that Archie has graduated from the Meyer Center, but mostly this stage we’ve reached, my children and I, of growing up and letting go feels exactly right. We four are ready for whatever comes next.
Time flies, that bus driver said, and for the most part I agree with his assessment. Sometimes it feels as if Archie, Kit and Jack have been on summer vacation forever, but when I review the bigger events that comprised these hot and humid days in my head and string them together, one right after another, time blurs and seems to blip by at a breakneck pace.
My dad had open-heart surgery to replace his aortic valve, and I broke my toe, the middle one on my right foot. John and Jack went to Wisconsin with John’s brother Lewis and his nephews, Ellis and William, to stay in a farmhouse that’s been in John’s family so long it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. My parents bought a beach house on the Isle of Palms, and a baby copperhead snake found it’s way into our home’s family room late last Saturday night.
The kids completed their summer camps, swam, and slept out in a tent in their cousins’ backyard. One of my nieces, John’s sister’s daughter, spent Tuesdays with us, and another niece, my cousin’s daughter, flew down from New York City to spend a week with our family. My mom took Kit out to a dress-up dinner at High Cotton, and at the conclusion of Archie’s last day at the Meyer Center my voice wavered as I stumbled all over myself to thank his teachers for a really good year until Sharon, Archie’s lead teacher, held up her hand to stop me and said, “Don’t.” So I didn’t.
I played with my kids, riding bicycles with them around the driveway, pretending as if I didn’t see them when we played hide-and-go-seek, or squirting them with our green garden hose. We cuddled together on the couch inside our air-conditioned home and watched Little Bill on Nick Jr. and Dinosaur Train on PBS Kids. And I yelled at them, too, all three of my kids, when the day was too hot or my patience was too thin or something was bothering me that had nothing to do with Archie, Kit or Jack at all while time tripped over upon itself until we arrived right here.
Yesterday afternoon my parents watched Kit and Jack while Archie and I went to the store to purchase the items typed out on his class supplies list. He’d accompanied me when I’d taken Kit and Jack to do the same thing for their school last week, but for whatever reason the trip for Archie’s supplies felt different and I wanted to go alone with him. Maybe it’s because he’s my oldest child and I can remember when he and I spent our days together, just the two of us idling in a state of shared adoration, but for whatever reason sometimes I prefer to do certain things with just Archie, leaving Kit and Jack behind.
We made our way around the store, filling our cart with things like glue sticks and Ziploc bags, and when we got to the aisle with the pencil boxes I told Archie he needed to choose one and asked him if he’d like the red, blue, grey, green, or purple box. He picked a green box, one with embossed, interloping circles on the top, and asked if he could hold it. “Show me how to open it,” I instructed as I handed him his pencil box.
An older woman wearing surgical scrubs stopped beside our cart and I watched her watching Archie as he opened the box on his first try. “Good job, Archie,” I said, smiled, and then ruffled my son’s hair.
“He’s so smart,” the woman wearing surgical scrubs cooed to me before she passed by us, moving forward in the opposite direction.
As we were checking out at the register Archie told the cashier about his school supplies, and then asked her about the doors in front of us. Did one go to the office, he wanted to know. Does one go outside, he wondered aloud. She patiently answered his inquiries until I’d paid for Archie’s supplies and we were off again.
When we got outside the store Archie growled, covered his eyes, and then called out, “I’m shy!”
“You’re not shy,” I chided. “You just talked to that lady and you don’t know her.”
“I’m shy from the bright, hot sun,” Archie explained, laying his forehead against my chest. He kept it there until I lifted him out of the shopping cart and helped him into the backseat of our car.
Last weekend I watched a program on one of the science channels about black holes. Apparently there’s a debate among scientists about what would happen if a person somehow fell into a black hole. Although everyone seems to agree that a person would disintegrate as the hole’s gravitational pull overpowered the body’s chemical bonds, those scientists argue about what would happen to all those disconnected atoms.
One of the scientists interviewed for the program crafted a mathematical equation to prove that even though a person would be annihilated in a black hole, that the person’s atoms would somehow form an imprint along the hole’s rings and create smears similar to the kinds of groves you find carved into a record.
According to this particular scientist those smears would be collections of memories and in each smear the person would exist, unaware that he’d been devoured by the black hole and unaware that there were now multiple versions of himself spattered throughout the universe.
To illustrate this point the television program’s director filled a room with several images of the same man, reading different parts of the same book in different positions around the room. The different images of the man with his book were layered into the room, one by one, and the overall affect of the illustration was a little disorienting at first. I had to think about what I was seeing before I understood what was going on.
There’s a house we pass nearly every time we leave our neighborhood. It’s on a street that runs behind where we live. The house is situated on a big lot and I’m not quite sure what’s going on with the house and the lot other than to say that someone is working awfully hard in fits and starts to build both up and then tear both down. Whoever owns the place has a few yard statues, deer that sit and stand and a grizzly bear dressed in clothing that seems to be holding an ax against his side, and if you watch closely enough you’ll notice that the statues move about the yard. One day a ceramic deer is sitting in the front of the yard, leaning against a tree, and then a few days later that deer has moved back from the road and is resting near the house.
I don’t get it either.
But what I do know is that this morning those roving statues reminded me of the television program about black holes. And the television program about black holes made me think about the way Archie, Kit and Jack are growing up. Everybody always says that they can’t believe their baby is however old now. I’ve said that before myself, too. But yesterday at the store when Archie sat in the shopping cart, holding his green pencil box with embossed, interloping circles on the top, I didn’t look at him and think, disbelieving, “You are starting first grade next week.” Instead I saw Archie as the baby he was and the boy he’s become all at exactly the same time and realized this is just another moment among the collection of moments comprising our shared lives. We are here now, my three children and I, and we will be somewhere else next week, but we are still who we are and we are doing what we’re intended to do. Down through the summer and into the fall we four endure unchanged, stepping out without contradiction, moving forward and remaining resolute in our intentions.
“Time flies,” Archie’s bus driver said.
It moves forward and then folds over upon itself.