It was a bit of a downer that my kids were left without a sitter on their last day of summer vacation. As a teacher, my wife’s summer had already been over for a week. Grandparents were available, but not without a shuffle of schedules. Aunts, uncles, and nephews were also committed elsewhere. That’s when daddy stepped in.
I took the day off from everything—work, writing, and the computer. “It’s your day,” I told the kids. “We’ll do whatever you want.”
Their smiles were genuine and laced with only the slightest bit of mischief, just enough for me to start to worry about a day of alternating wrestling matches and tea parties.
“Don’t worry,” my son said. “We’ll have an adventure.”
The day began as every day for the past week had, with the three of us staring through tiny holes of mesh around the butterfly cage. Mommy had ordered caterpillars the week before, which had arrived in little plastic containers of mud and goo. According to the directions, the caterpillars would find their way to the top of the containers and form cocoons, at which point we would transfer them to the cage and stand guard. We watched for three days until the butterflies emerged. Then we had a birthday party—brownies for us, sugar water sprinkled on purple flowers from the backyard for them.
They were fed and loved, oohed and ahhed. They got the prime seat in front of the television so they could watch cartoons. My daughter sang lullabies to them at night. “They’re like my kids,” my daughter said. That was true; she cared for them as such. And the butterflies grew. Their wings grew and changed from a dull gray to bright orange, and they began flittering about the cage. It was time to let them go.
That was one item on the list for that day.
There were also plenty of others.
There was wrestling, yes. Much. And I drank so much imaginary tea that my stomach imaginarily sloshed.
We readied knapsacks for school and checked off their needed supplies.
We took in a matinee movie. Not at the fancy theater down at the mall with the noisy video games and the fancy seats, but the cool one downtown with the creaky wooden floors and the old movie posters.
We visited the school on the way home to say hello to teachers and pitch in to help mommy.
We took a walk around the neighborhood and chased imaginary pirates.
Summer had died. I think we all knew that. And I think we all knew that last day was also its funeral of sorts, a way of saying thanks and goodbye and see you again some day. But rather than mourning summer’s passing, we toasted it. We spent out day eating food we shouldn’t, laughing uncontrollably, pondering the mysteries of the world, and trying to suck the marrow out of every minute.
That’s how every funeral should be, I think. A celebration. A see-you-again-some-day.
I don’t mind bragging—they had fun. Much fun. In my son’s words, “The funnest day ever.” I like to think I had a part in that.
But the truth is that I had fun, too. I like having my kids around. I like the fact they’re nestled in a life that is stable and loving and good. I like knowing where they are, and I like knowing that place is safe.
That night after dinner, the four of us took the butterfly cage outside. My son unzipped the top and pulled it back, while my daughter clothes-pinned it to hold it open. We sat for a few minutes and watched as the butterflies crawled to the top and perched themselves there, slowly opening and closing their wings.
“It’s okay,” my son whispered. “Go!”
We all watched as one by one they did just that, leaving the home they loved for another, bigger one. One full of wonder and delight mixed with danger and darkness.
My daughter sidled up to me and put her head on my shoulder. “I wish my kids could stay here,” she said. “I know they have to go into the world, but I wish they could stay here. Does that make sense, Daddy?”
“More than you know,” I said.
This post is part of the blog carnival on Children, hosted by Bridget Chumbley. To read more, please visit her site.