Lucky To Be Here

And just like that, it was over. The four day escape to Paris was dreamlike, not only for the hand holding while meandering through the back streets only to stop for long leisurely meals. Not just for the sleep ins and buffet breakfasts, but because in an instant it was over and life returned to normal. G and I walked through the front door of our home to be greeted by the fruits of our loins, each with a series of demands, questions, and the occasional hug. They perused the gifts, ate the chocolates, and filled us in on the weekend’s activities. Someone wanted to let us know that someone else spent too much time watching television, someone else wanted us to know that someone had bragged too much about their sleepover. “But it was so much fun!” replied the recipient of the best sleepover ever.

Within minutes I was signing a form for school, and answering requests. I need, I want, you need to, we have to, when can you, don’t forget about. Paris was a distant memory.

It is the final week of school, a week which one could be forgiven for assuming would be quieter, winding down, but alas no. As my girlfriend Cathy once said, those final weeks of school are like being caught in a spin dryer that just gets faster and faster until we suddenly reach the holidays with a sudden thud – finished.

The spin dryer is in full momentum, its whirr now faster than before, I can feel it building to a crescendo. We have class parties, books that need to be found, a “step up’ ceremony to attend for those moving from elementary to middle school. As I type I realize our Fred will need a new pair of pants for tomorrow’s ceremony or at least a decent pair of shorts, excuse me while I just add it to the list… We have exams, yes exams! We have cakes to be made, money to be handed in, swim parties, and a final meeting with a teacher about next years subject choices. I have work to do, lots of it, and a project which involves getting my photo taken which brings me to personal maintenance. I need a haircut, my eyebrows are like two oddly designed caterpillars perched above my eyes, my nails are chipped, my legs hairy. It’s not pretty here, not pretty at all.

These things could possibly be seen as a chore if I didn’t have the same recurring picture in my head. It is Fred’s Grade 5 teacher, his face hasn’t left the dark recess of my thoughts for days now. I keep seeing him, the same visual. We’re at parent-teacher night and he’s wearing a bright pink shirt, he says something about the colour in a thick southern accent, I look confused for a second and we giggle about the fact that we’re more than half way through the year and I still can’t understand him. It’s a moment in time, nothing special, just a snippet. For this entire year I have heard and known all about Fred’s beloved Mr C, the names of his children, his wife, his love of basketball, his history, his home. At one stage Fred talked of him and his stories so incessantly that I worried if anything was actually being taught. Each night at the dinner table another story.

On the way home from the memorial last week, after I’d sat with the rest of the school community with tears streaming down our collective faces, after we’d listened to the stories, sang the song, looked at the pictures, and marvelled at a wife with industrial strength courage and reserve, I asked Fred how he was going. It had been a week since we’d been given the news that had had him sobbing himself to sleep.

“It’s just sad Mum, it’s like it’s just too too sad, you know, he was so young and such a great Dad”.

“It was nice how they told all those funny stories wasn’t it?’

“Yeah, he would have liked that, he told good stories, he would have enjoyed that. He knew Mum, after he’d had the operation when he was younger he knew he was lucky to be here. I think that’s why he was such a good Dad, such a good guy. He knew.”

I thought of all the stories. The fact that each kid in the class knew how to spell his children’s names. Fred had made us tell him every detail. What had the Principal said when he rang that night to tell us. Where was Mr C when it happened, but which gym? In between the sobs he’d asked again. What did the Principal say again Mum, tell me exactly what he said. When G had read out the note from the school the following morning he’d pronounced a name incorrectly “that’s not how you say it Dad” he was annoyed “it’s spelt like this…you pronounce it like this…”. Fred had learnt more about Mr C in one year than he had some of his own relatives. He knew Mr C’s favourite team, his favourite moments, music and travel.

I’d walked around Paris in a dream, so lucky to be here, so far from my children, must stay alive, so lucky to be here, so far from my children, must stay alive. I wanted to ring my parents and ask them if there was a moment when your children become old enough that you know they’ll be okay if you leave them. Would there be a magical day when I’d look at them as adults and be able to go on holiday and not triple check every time I crossed the road? Would I board a flight with G and not see it as risky? Would I give myself permission to ride a bicycle through Paris even though there wasn’t a helmet?

It was on the last day in the Musee Rodin when I realised I had completely missed the point. Every inch of the garden is beautiful. Every sculpture an example of beauty, passion and resolution. As Mr C made his way from the back to the front of my mind I wondered if he’d been to Paris. I looked out across the garden and thought of him and his children, his wife. Of all the beautiful family shots they’d shown at the memorial. Of how each time the class had broken into two teams he’d named them after his children. Of how every teacher had said he always been on the same patch of grass playing with his children. I thought of the pictures of him on holidays, the beaches, the backpacks, the life that appeared so full. He would have ridden the bicycle around Paris.

He knew he was lucky to be here. I think that’s why he was such a good Dad, such a good guy. He knew.

So lucky to be here. The spin dryer keeps spinning, the requests keep coming, the day is full, life is loud, colourful, hectic and wonderful. So lucky to be here. Remember it, learn from it, enjoy it while you can.

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