Me and Atticus Down by the Schoolyard

In a few hours the sun will rise and the world you know will stretch and yawn and spend a few minutes scratching things that itched in the night. Then there will be that moment, my favorite of the day, when you and your little brother are full of joy and innocence and the early hour hasn’t allowed you time to make each other cry or to fight over things that only matter for an instant. You and Zane will appear at the end of the hall, each with a stuffed mouse, loved and worn, tucked under your respective arms and you will run toward me with a purity that I don’t deserve and you will hug me almost as long as I need it. Then you’ll embrace each other and say good morning like brothers lost and not two little boys that just spent the past nine hours sleeping a foot away from each other.

It will be Friday, and that’s a school day for you, but when we walk down our drive we won’t turn toward your preschool or the park, but the other way. It will be early still, and if you and your brother are able to get ready in a reasonable amount of time we’ll stop on the corner to buy a doughnut for you and a coffee for me. I’m sure I will need it. I don’t face mornings with the wonder that you boys do. It is my chore, but you are my reward and despite my contrary moans to your mother I never regret it. But perhaps this morning.

Across the street is a big building that you went into once, when you wanted to go vote with Daddy, and you had been good and let me look at all of the different propositions that I never bothered to read up on before deciding to skip them and vote for what I knew. The ladies working there thought you were cute, or rather, they knew it, and they gave you an “I Voted” sticker, when you actually hadn’t because that would have been a felony.

Now you will be going there to enroll as a student. This is where you get in the machine that spits you out tomorrow when you are a man. This is where the kids in the Pink Floyd movie fall into the meat grinder, and no, they aren’t going to eat you, I was just making a point, but it isn’t important.

I know that we’ll have the entire summer before school actually starts, but that’s just it. It will be a summer. It will be a countdown towards something that changes dynamics and schedules. We will have the entire summer, but we have had your entire life, and somehow I just assumed that it would always be this way.

I am sure that like all bittersweet milestones we have reached together that this melancholy too shall pass. You will be happy and you will succeed and your mom and I will be happy for you, but you’ll also get taller and wiser and sometimes I’ll catch your eye looking further away than where we’ve stood and I’ll want to hold your hand even though you don’t need it. That’s the problem with having a son that you are proud of, he needs guidance and support and he needs room to grow. Grant me the summer and then you will have it. You will be in the system, and I can only hope that we have taught you enough to resist it every time it rubs across your grain.

Use it, learn from it. It is there to serve you, not you it, and when the school bell rings look for your brother, your mother, and me. We will be standing beneath the shade of the big oak tree, waiting to walk you home.

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