My old man used to kid my mother about the day I went off to college. They came home after dropping me off, and were putting order into the chaos that followed those last frantic moments before departure.
My mother pulled out one of the bottom drawers of a childhood chest and burst into tears. Shed come across some toy soldiers. Her emotions got the best of her. She recuperated quickly, however, when shortly thereafter she came across my one and only Playboy magazine. A transition from innocent to evil, in her view. Good riddance of a bad seed. (Not really.)
This is the season of such departures, and the same emotions apply whether the student is heading for the distant reaches of UCLA or close to home at N.C. State, or whether the grade is college or kindergarten. Ive taken a godson to college, so Ive got that one in the books.
But Sunday, cleaning up after a visit from a Little Guy of my acquaintance whos 5 years old now, and whom Ive known since the day he was born, I came across some Thomas the Train cars and track. Hed left those behind him at about age three or so, but theyd remained in the toy chest at my house, where he visits regularly and occasionally bunks.
No, I didnt shed any tears, but we had been talking that afternoon, he and I, about his upcoming enrollment in kindergarten.
Even as I was asking the questions, I knew he was going to be bored and annoyed by them, just as I had been at his age. But I couldnt stop myself: Are you nervous? No, Pops.
Are you worried? No.
Do you know any of the other kids? Yeah.
Do you need anything? No, Daddys cleaning the pudding out of my backpack.
What are you going to do for lunch at school? I dont know! Stop asking me questions and lets watch The Lorax!
I have referred to the Little Guy by name in this space before, but as with his uncle before him (the godson) there comes a point where his name in print might get him more attention than he wants, perhaps even from teachers, should he get a little rambunctious. So hell basically be anonymous for a while.
No matter. The feelings on the part of those of us whove watched a youngster from Day One, looked after him on occasion, gotten to know him, are universal as lifes passages arrive.
And were left mostly with pictures and ever-fainter memories of how Things Used to Be. Theres the one of me feeding him. There he is getting ready for his first ride on a real train. There he is in a diaper in a window at Great Grandpas house. Christmas with G.G. (my mother). With the family on Halloween. Daddy, Mommy, Megan, Brenda, Grandma and Grandpa, Maw, Uncle Daniel, Uncle Carl, Uncle Tom, everybody in his immediate village. Leah and Baby Kevin are now in the mix.
And now there will be added the picture from First Day of School.
You think a kid has growing pains? The adults who watched him grow have more severe ones. We dont want to surrender that infallibility weve always enjoyed, in his eyes. Were pleased at increased independence, but have to fight the temptation to help a kid with things we know he can and should do for himself.
Recently, we were with some friends that included three sisters. He got up to go to the bathroom and when I followed as had been customary and expected, he wheeled around (the girls were nearby) and said, You know I dont need any help, Pops! as he held up his hand, ordering me back to my chair.
When he returned, he sat with the girls at the other end of the table. .
After preschool and summer camp at the Marbles museum, my talents for toy repair, always borderline, are no longer needed. I can do it myself! is his mantra.
The independent streak is so strong that he doesnt linger in his goodbyes. Loveyoumissyoubye is his way of time management. Sometimes I think if he had a Visa, hed get along just fine without any help whatsoever.
So goodbye Thomas the Train. Soon enough, Batman, Iron Man, Superman and the Hulk will be making their exits as well.
But one hopes were a few years from Playboy.
Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at firstname.lastname@example.org