Our house is full tonight. All the kids are home, the dog is at her regular spot at the foot of the bed, and we were smiling to each other as we were putting the day behind us. “There is nothing like a full house,” I thought. I voiced that thought to my wife of twenty-six years and she agreed.

            “Yep,” she said as she sunk into the bed, pulling her covers up and getting cozy for the night. “This is how it should be”

            We both know that these days are numbered. For my part, I did not appreciate the days when the children were of pre-school age. I did not enjoy when our little kids got the “zoomies” right before bedtime. That strange outburst of energy that drove me crazy always seemed to happen just before bedtime. The best word to describe me during the zoomies would be aggravated puzzlement. I could never figure out how a kid could be falling asleep on the couch and then, as the “going to bed” process was happening, get a burst of energy enough to power a small town. When three kids got the zoomies, well, it sometimes devolved into pandemonium. Giggles, my favorite kid sound, would fill the upstairs. Sometimes, a small dispute over a favorite book to be read would break out, but Melinda would deftly find a way to end the feud, choose a book read, and all would be forgiven.

            Occasionally, I would wander upstairs to see what all the commotion was about, but by the time I got there, stories were being read. They took turns sitting in the well that Melinda would make when she crossed her legs “Indian style”. That was the coveted spot. Another would be sitting so close that she would be jammed up against Melinda’s leg leaning in tight to see the pages. It was as if what was contained in the book was life-giving and the toddlers were going to get every morsel. The third would be on the other side, but since he was the youngest, he simply mimicked what the others were doing. Leaning in, he looked at each of them to make sure that he was doing it right. Occasionally, the youngest would glance at the other two, or Mom, and then continue to listen. Most of the time, he was out cold on Melinda’s hip before the story was finished. The entire scene was like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and would repeat almost every night while they were toddlers.

            Of course, as they grew older, that scene dissipated and was replaced with a different version of the zoomies and story time. Small disputes erupted over clothing, bathroom time, or simply over one person poking at another. My involvement was paramount here as the small fire between siblings could burst into flames if not controlled early. When the spark would manifest itself, I would wander up from my basement comfy chair, and issue a stern statement in my best “Dad” voice. “That’s enough. I don’t want to hear another thing, got it? Fix the problem and then let’s get to bed.” That was usually enough water to put out the flames. As I made my way back down the stairs, embers would continue to burn as small murmurings were heard. I smiled to myself on the way back down. Eventually, everyone made it safely to bed, and whatever the squabble was about was forgotten by morning.

            By the time they were teenagers, “bedtime” was much more haphazard. Schedules were different as this one had practice, another had a homework buddy to see and would arrive back home later in the evening. Schedules were harder to keep but all were in bed by 10:00PM. As each progressed through high school, bedtimes would vary due to less restrictions and later curfews. Each, in turn, would earn later curfew based on age and trustworthiness. Bed times were scattered, and neither of us was comfortable until all were home and “snug as a bug in a rug.” Fortunately, they always did come home. There was the occasional sleepover for my daughter, something I intrinsically hated, but my wife assured me was “part of it” when a daughter was in the mix. I did not like my daughter out of the house at night. A Dad thing, I guess. We survived, she survived, and today, all is good. Inside, I could feel the seams coming apart as the children grew older. My grip was loosening a bit, just a bit. A necessary evil if they were going to become responsible people. They had to be given rope, but rope in stages.

            Now, things are different. For most of the week there is only one person besides myself and my wife in the house. He is the youngest, waiting his turn to flee the nest. One more year. The other two come home each weekend, mostly, and when they do, the house seems normal again. The kids are no longer kids but young adults, with budding lives, hopes, and dreams. Struggles are still there, but on a much different level than wondering who is going to use the bathroom, or which book to read. They are learning to deal with the world now as opposed to Goodnight Moon or Horton, who always heard the Who. As when they were younger, frustrations abound, and just as when they were younger, hugs still matter. I think that we forget sometimes that even though they are older, they are still kids inside. I think we all are. Hugs do matter. I think hugs will always matter.

            Last night, everyone was home. Now, rather than three little kids that used to get the zoomies before bed, those spaces are occupied by three adults tired from the day. Three grown or almost grown humans who will sooner rather than later venture out to find their way in the world, wherever that may take them. They are here much less these days, but my wife and I still feel better when they are home. I think that we always will feel that way. They are our children. Melinda said once that, “The days are long, but the years fly by,” and she was right. Sometimes I long for the zoomies, story time, and settling that occasional dispute. I miss hearing the giggling and running little feet from upstairs. The years flew by.