I took the same steps, the same familiar path, followed almost the exact same routine. Stepped off the bus, crossed the street, reached the front stoop, and then... nothing. No stirring on the other side of the door. None at all.
As the key slid into the deadbolt lock I expected to hear the same thing I hear everyday: the excited bark from the dog. But nothing. Then, the lock on the knob. Sometimes Luna needs a second to wake up before she launches in the her full-body heave of a greeting. Again, nothing.
I walked into the house, picked the mail up off the floor, and said nothing. But noticed everything. No one's home. No one's gonna be home. No one but me.
My daughter and my dog had been whisked away to my in-laws' house because my wife and I were taking a long weekend trip to Seattle the next morning. We look forward to the rare opportunity to travel by ourselves, just the two of us. But the eerie silence inside our usually noisy and sometimes chaotic home was certainly deafening.
I didn't like it. Not one bit.
Sure, I had the freedom to get changed, get a drink, get a snack, watch some television, go for a run, relax, without any time constraints. No dog to walk. No child to pick up from day care. No dinner to cook because my wife was working late to make up for taking some days off.
I actually did like it a little. OK, a lot. But I felt really guilty about it.
We considered taking Penelope with us, but decided against it. And from the start, our decision was immediately validated at the airport. Bickering in line because we were late. Asking everyone in front of us if they minded if we skipped to the front. We literally had to sprint to the gate to catch our flight just before they closed the door. We were those people. I am not exaggerating. I was O.J. Simpson in that old Avis commercial.
That would have been impossible with a 2 1/2 year-old.
Time after time during our four days in Seattle we were still reassured that our decision was the correct one. The time difference, for instance. We went to a baseball game that started at 10 pm eastern time.
That would have been unfair with a 2 1/2 year old.
The late meals, the drinking, the constant stops for what may have easily been the best coffee in the world.
That would have been irresponsible with a 2 1/2 year-old.
There were times when I thought about what Penelope - and Luna - might have been doing at that particular moment. There were the obligatory phone calls to check in, the obligatory ceremony of putting her on the phone, and the subsequent obligatory one word, yes or no answer to your initial question followed by a quick "bye."
That's all we got for 4 days!
To be honest, I missed her but didn't pine for her. I couldn't wait to see her while being thankful for the time away. And then we were walking - I stress walking this time - to our gate for the return flight home. A few feet in front of us, a little girl Penelope's age with blonde curly hair was walking with her family. She was jumping along a path of metal fish that were etched into the airport floor. She reminded me of my daughter, of what I have, of what I missed. That's when I said, "I can't wait to see my little girl."
It was not until the next day, after work, that I got to finally see my girls. I left work early, arrived home before my wife, who had gone to pick them up. Then, with a burst of energy that came like a lightning bolt through the door from the garage to the kitchen, the silence was broken.
Penelope giggled with delight. Luna whimpered with excitement. My wife and I cheered with relief. Reunited and it feels so good.
That night, as I walked home from the park, holding my daughter's hand, she repeated the same statements and questions over and over and over again. "Daddy, I want to find another acorn. Where did the bunny go? Daddy, I want milk. Did Luna poopy? Daddy, I don't want to take a bath." I kept answering her every request, responding to her every query. Over and over and over again. We walked painfully slowly for a man whose patience is as lacking as mine. My wife turned around, smiling. I smiled back.
It's good to be home. No place I'd rather be.
**I'd like to dedicate this post and all future posts to the memory of my cousin, Michael S. Small, the most dedicated father I've ever seen, I'll ever know, who lost his brave battle with cancer last week at the age of 45. If you think you're too tired to do something for your child, with your child, realize that my cousin Mike would not have hesitated, did not hesitate, even in his final days. So get up and do it anyway. For him, for you. Most importantly, for your child.