The Clanging Buoy of a Middle School Graduation


Two school years ago, when my oldest child moved on to high school, my family entered a new period of having to transport children in opposite directions at about the same time in the morning.  Given the direction of my wife’s work, I began driving the younger three.  Well, those two years are over, and this week we had our last four-person car ride on a school morning.

In one dimension, it’s silly to find something melancholy in that.  We still live in the same house, after all, and it’s not like we don’t pile in the car frequently enough, starting with church on Sundays.  Moreover, the drive to school is sufficiently short that the lost conversation time can easily be made up, especially now that full school weeks mean I won’t have to watch the littlest one while working two days a week anymore… oh… well… yes, there’s that.

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The curious thing is that this is a change toward which I’ve been looking forward, and I’m sure my focus will return to the bright sides in the near future.  For now, though, the marker in time is like a storm-stained buoy between an island and the mainland.  Hearing it off a ways in the fog of the future, the sound heralded hopeful progress.  For the moment, it bobs there before me, clanging like they do, reminding me that it’s one in a series, and my imagination springs from one to the next, as if there truly were nothing between.

The next marker, in two years, will be a tough one: our first high school graduation.  Never before has that phrase sounded so resonant of Poe.  Then, we’ll have them at regular intervals, followed by a stretch of the tell-tale heartbeats of collegiate ceremonies.  When we complete of our last middle-high-college sequence, as parents, we’ll be nearing the possibility of our own graduation from the workplace.  Nevermore.  See how easily one elides a quarter or fifth of one’s life!

But the value of life is mostly between the markers.  From an individualist, somewhat selfish, point of view, time spent raising children is like time spent at sea.  You get done what work you can — toward the career, around the house, improving one’s self — but multitasking through the waves is a rocking, tumultuous endeavor that often upsets the stomach.

The better approach is to focus on the journey.  The rusty reminder of time’s toll that happens to be clanging in front of me, just now, will pass in an instant, and there are (I remind myself) years before I’ll see another like it.

In that regard, I can only be grateful that circumstances forced me into the inconvenience of these morning drives and that having multiple, well-spaced children is making it impossible to slip through the precious time of their childhoods without frequent reminders to stop and enjoy their company.