Recently we decided to retire our mini-van. After 351,000 miles and trips West, North, South and East over the last ten years, we decided that the time had come to downsize and move forward. Our next vehicle will be smaller and have all-wheel traction to battle the rural winters. In truth, with one son working out-of-town and another living away at college, there is no need for a vehicle that seats six. The new vehicle eliminates one row of seats and we can certainly count on better gas mileage.
But what I didn't count on was a trip we took--not far--just last weekend. In some fortunate confluence, all the "baby chicks" were back home for one night. We decided to go out to get something to eat and immediately the oldest hopped into his car to follow along. But mom and dad, sensing something important, strongly advised everyone to take one vehicle--the battered old mini-van with duck-tape on the fender...and I'm glad we did.
As we ventured across the back country roads on an absolutely stunning sunny afternoon towards our destination, I glanced in the rear view mirror and immediately my eyes began to swell with tears. It hit me. Quite unexpectedly, really. This would be it. The final time all six of us will be traveling in one vehicle together.
There was no such fighting on this short trip (well, not much) because they are all older, but the noisy ghosts of the past kept bouncing around my head. And the tears welled.
As "the dad," more often than not, I was behind the wheel of the mini-van and my attention was equally split between the road ahead and those bouncing heads behind me. I yelled, I broke up fights, I pointed out (what I thought was) interesting sights. For a fixed period of time, the bobbing heads were my responsibility. No matter how tired I was (literally slapping my face, at times, to stay awake during overnight trips), or how dark and lonely the highway, it was my job to get them to our destination safe and sound. Now they are growing or have grown and they no longer need me. As the number of bouncing heads has reduced over the last couple of years, I really didn't notice. Not until they all came back last weekend. My heart soared during the moment, the last trip. It was sunny and warm...but I also had to wipe my eyes.
After returning home, the older boys said goodbye and went their separate ways into the night. And the new vehicle will arrive in a week or so. It will be nice--heated seats, zone air conditioning, no duct tape--and it will seat four, maybe five, comfortably. I know I'll continue to have responsibilities for several more years until the last two chicks fly away from the nest. My mission is in no way completed.
But I can't help but rewind and replay the sounds of that final full mini-van trip over the open country roads and I also can't stop glancing back into the rear view mirror of my life searching, looking, for something familiar and wiping my eyes over what I see and what I won't see again.