I spent a lot of time comforting my son when he was a very small boy, telling him these words: "Mommies always come back." Sometimes it was for the shortest of trips to the store. Other times it was a late night when bed time came and he was stuck with his grumpy old dad to tuck him in. There were a lot of tears. There was a lot of insecurity. And he was upset too.
Even now, at fifteen, when his mother is out past sundown, he finds me and asks in the most nonchalant way: "When is mom coming home, anyway?" It's the way he keeps track of the order of things. When everyone is in their place, the day can turn over and a new one can start. It's a great big familial reset button.
I get this. I remember watching for my father's car coming up the street. We lived at the end of a dead end street, so just about anywhere I was playing I could see when dad came home. I remember catching a glimpse of his green Datsun rounding the corner from the front window of my friend's house. "Hey, my dad's home!" I enthused. To which I received this reply from my good buddy: "So?"
Not everyone was as interested in the relative comings and goings of their parents as I was. Some were just the opposite of me, waiting for those moments when they could be left alone. That's not how I grew up. During those summers my brothers and I spent living at our cabin in the mountains, we would often make a project of walking down the road to meet our father as he made his way up the dirt road to us. At first we were content to walk to the bottom of the driveway. Then we started leaving a little earlier to hike up to the top of the hill. Soon we were regularly making the trip to the turn off from the main road to our winding lane, hanging out by the mailboxes that reminded us of the rural life we were leading. On a couple more occasions, we made the commitment to walk the seven miles down the mountain to meet my dad where the asphalt ended and the hairpin turns began.
Interestingly enough, this meant we left our mother behind. We were pretty safe in the assumption that mom would be there when we came back. That was how I grew up, after all. Mommies always came back, primarily because they rarely left. But even though my dad rarely missed a dinner at home, we always waited for him as if he were returning from the wars.Which I suppose he was.
These days, when I ride my bike into the driveway, I'm not sure who will be home. My wife is busy with her Zumba class. My son is staying late at school or heading up the hill to hang out with his friends. My dog greets me to get a scratch behind the ears before we go about our routines, and we wait. Because families always come back.