Good Life

Walt Mills: With children leaving the nest, now comes the great unwinding

Memorial Day was about as lovely a late spring day as you could wish for. We went to the cemetery at Farmers Mills for the annual service and laid flowers at the graves of the military dead, maybe a hundred people with baskets of flowers winding among the tombstones in a long ragged line.

While we processed, the brass section of the high school marching band played solemn tunes. That is the last time, I think, we will go to that service.

These are the busy days as the school year winds down. A recent Wednesday was the final band and chorus concert of the year. We will not be going to those again, either.

We may have seen our last high school musical. This year’s was a pretty good one, “Bye, Bye Birdie.” We’ve seen a lot of them while our daughters were in high school, all the late nights waiting in the darkened auditorium while the rehearsals ran overtime. Twelve years of musicals, band concerts, high school football games, huddled in blankets on the cold November bleachers.

So much of our lives has been wrapped up in the surrogate life of the parents of high school students. All of the things we have done that we might not have chosen to do on our own.

The Memorial Day service was lovely and moving, but I doubt we would have stood there in the sun and shadows if our younger daughter were not playing in the band. And the musicals will not be quite so entertaining without all of the weeks of drama that precede opening night.

Is it possible that all the tedious waiting and shuffling back and forth to Honor Society ceremonies and music banquets and summer band camps are actually the things I will miss?

Like I now miss those long ago nights at soccer practice when the girls were very young and the teams practiced until dark, while I stood in the cold and tried to recognize one bobbing blonde ponytail among a crowd of racing shadows?

As our younger daughter prepares to go off to college and her sister to graduate school in a distant city, we are contemplating a life that does not revolve around the double stars of our personal solar system.

Without their light, will we slowly freeze? Minus their gravitational pull, will we drift out of orbit into interstellar space?

We are not the first to contemplate these possibilities. Friends tell us it takes some getting used to, but we will be fine eventually. Get over yourself, I hear the world whisper, it happens to everyone.

But I have yet to get over my older brother leaving home when I was 12 and then my sister a few years later. Now the years are unwinding like a clock spring, back to a time before the children were born. But what can you do?

Maybe I will learn to be a better husband, a more engaged friend. Maybe I will take that novel out of the drawer and try one more time to see if I can make its wooden sentences dance. There will be time, there will be time.