This column, first written, in 2001, has held up through the years. Enjoy.
The children of America have gone back to school. And, in nearly every household, there is at least one person who is standing over the kitchen sink in tears, wondering where the years have gone.
Every year at this time, I remember a wonderful essay I heard on NPR the summer before The Lad first went to college. A woman talked about the day she sent her daughter to kindergarten for her first day of school. "My husband told me not to cry," she wrote, "because tomorrow she would still be in kindergarten."
"But, he was wrong," the essay continued. "Tomorrow, she went to college."
When The Lad was born - from the second he was born - he became the most important thing in my life.
I spent Saturday mornings with The Lad at the Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC. Later, it was afternoons at the Little League field in McLean, Virginia. Still later, Sunday breakfasts at our favorite deli in Dallas, Texas.
Very early one morning, in August of the summer before the Lad was to go off for his freshman year at the University of Texas, I was driving to work in Dallas. I oversaw operations in the Middle East so, to keep up with employees spread over nine time zones, I often went to work at about four A.M.
Driving up the Dallas Tollway, the overnight sports station was conducting yet another arcane discussion on the state of the Dallas Cowboys defensive backfield, so I shut the radio off and started singing "Puff the Magic Dragon," to which I can sing the harmony. In college, when I was a pretty good folk guitar player, it was a staple in my repertoire.
I was singing - in pieno voce - when I got to the line:
A dragon lives forever;I tear up at Christmas coffee commercials. I sniff and wipe my eyes at every happy ending in every movie I've ever seen - including movies on airplanes which generally precludes any further conversation between my seatmate and me.
but not so little boys.
Painted wings and giant's rings
make way for other toys.
The "…but not so little boys" line caused me to pull over to the side of the road and stop, not just to wipe away a tear, but to actually sob. Which, on the Dallas Tollway, even at four in the morning, is no mean feat.
The woman who wrote that NPR essay said that she had divided her friends into two groups: Those who understood, and those who didn't.