As I pulled into the driveway and headed up the walk, I knew what I would see.
Sure enough. A cross-legged Missy sitting just inside the bay window, crayons and tea close to hand. Watching the world. Watching the street.
Watching for me.
I came inside, collected a smile and a hug. “Hey, Miss-a Melissa. Was it a good day today?”
And with that, I know I’m home.
It’s been interesting being on the other side of this. Growing up, I was always the one waiting – though never, perhaps, as intently as my little sisters. They were the ones who would stand in the garage and chant, with the enthusiasm of a cheerleader and the certainty of an invocation “Daddy come home! Daddy come home!”
He always did.
Now, for the past year, it’s been my turn. Granted, I’ve had my lovely wife Heather to return to for long before that, along with the mixed nervousness and excitement of Duchess the Wonder Dog. But Missy, our developmentally disabled ward, is in a class by herself. Sometimes, she may spend an hour or two just waiting in the window, ready for the family to be complete.
It’s a little humbling. Are hugs and stories and “I love you’s” really worth so much?
“Parenting and guardianship is on-the-job training,” Mom reminded me over the Mother’s Day weekend. “The main part is consistently being on the job.”
The more I think on that, the more I like it.
In a world that often obsesses on quality time, we often forget the power of big fat chunks of quantity time. The importance of just being there, even if we’re not constantly engaged in enlightening activities that would win the Bill Cosby Seal of Approval.
Looking back on my own childhood, I can remember some great experiences with Mom and Dad: trips to the movies, travel to the Northwest, nights spent reading together. But most of all, I remember them. Knowing they were close, knowing they cared, something more important than any set-piece activity.
I know, it’s not always possible. There may be nights that require working late, blizzards that clog the road home, even military duties that call a piece of the family away for months at a time. The times when someone has to carry you in their heart for a little while.
But it’s a lot easier to carry someone in your heart if you’ve first carried them in your eyes.
The amazing thing – almost frightening, really – is how quickly and quietly it builds. Every morning spent fighting with shoelaces, every evening spent helping with the toothbrush, is another stroke on the canvas. Ordinary moments, even frustrating ones, sometimes.
But give it enough time, and without warning, the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
“You go’n to work?” Missy asks, now from the couch.
“Not this time,”I tell her. “Tonight, you’ve got me.”
In the window seat, the crayons wait. Later, we may go there together, to read and smile and watch the world go by.
But for tonight, the vigil is done. Tonight, the watch can wait until the next return journey.
Tonight, I know I’m home.