He waited patiently in the courtyard, surrounded by the other parents. The same parents who had stood in the same courtyard over the last several months, often huddled near walls to shield themselves from the icy winds, hidden beneath layers of winter coats, now donned sunglasses, shorts and t-shirts.
There was an air of excitement amongst them. The bell would ring soon and when it did, the group dynamic would change. Next autumn, it might be an entirely different group waiting by an entirely different doorway in an entirely different courtyard.
As the fleeting moments of the school year ticked away, he thought not of what next year would look like and which parents he would wait alongside each day at 2:20 in the afternoon. His focus was more like that of the students still trapped inside waiting for release. He thought of freedom.
To be sure, his life would not change as drastically over the next three months as would his sons’. He would still have to go to work. He would still have to pay the bills. But there would be a bit more freedom to his schedule. No more worrying about lunches and school uniforms. No more checking over homework and keeping tabs on special projects. He even pulled his phone from his pocket as he waited and deleted the standard weekday alarms to remind him of when school started and ended. And with the school year now at an end the end of the baseball season would soon follow.
The bell rang and a weight seemed to lift off his shoulders. He could almost feel his calendar clear.
He watched his sons burst forth from their school and come running to his side and thought of all the fun his family might have together this summer. If they wanted to catch a game, they would drive to the ballpark. If they wanted to take a bike ride, the trails nearby their home were open and waiting. The amusement park’s hours had already changed to accommodate weekday adventures and he and his wife had already made plans to get season passes.
All this buzzed in his head for the remainder of the day that felt like a dream.
But first things first: he would go to work that night and when he arrived home in the wee hours of the morning, he would get his sleep without having to worry about getting his boys to school. He would soak up the extra time in bed and awake refreshed and ready to enjoy his family’s summer.
Work, too, passed as if it were happening to somebody else. The hours sped past and before he knew it, he was being greeted by the comfort of his pillow. The sun was not yet up over the horizon and as he pulled the blanket over himself and his wife instinctively moved in close to him as she did every morning when he arrived back in their bed, he drifted off to sleep.
His eyes shot open to the unmistakable sound of breaking glass. It was followed soon after by the stomping footfalls and hushed whispers of his two boys. He looked beside him in bed to find his wife was already gone. He looked the other way to find that the clock read 7:00. For a moment he puzzled over whether it was AM or PM, but the direction of the light steaming in through the blinds told him it was the option that gave him less sleep. On the first day of summer vacation, his sons had woken up earlier than they ever had during the school year.
The sound of the argument between his sons and the lack of the sound of his wife intervening told him he would need to get out of bed and attend to the situation.
When he descended the stairs, he found a picture frame off the wall and broken on the floor. In the basement, he could hear the boys blaming one another and stressing over the sound of his footsteps approaching down the stairs. When he arrived in the basement, his squinted eyes met their sheepish faces and saw the Nerf bazooka hastily hidden beneath the couch cushions.
“Just get me the broom,” he growled at them and they sprang into action. As he bent over the broken glass in the living room and swept it into the dustpan, his sons stood by in nervous silence and watched. “Have you even eaten breakfast yet?” he asked them.
They looked at each other and shook their heads. “Mom went out to get us something, cuz we woke her up,” said his oldest.
“Yeah, and she told us to be quiet and not wake you up while she was gone,” chimed in his youngest with an accusing glare at his older brother.
“You’re the one who wanted to have a Nerf war,” countered the older.
“In the BASEMENT,” chirped back the younger.
“Well if you hadn’t…”
“ENOUGH!” Both boys shot their attention back to their father as he stood with the dustpan full of glass in one hand and the broom in the other. “Get me the garbage can.”
Just then, the front door swung open and he turned to see his wife entering with a McDonald’s bag. “Oh no,” she said as she noticed him, disheveled and bleary-eyed in the living room. “They came in and woke me up at 6:30. I was only gone a few minutes to get them some breakfast.”
She managed to serve the food to their boys, scold them, take the pan of glass from him and dispose of it and usher him back up to their bedroom before he even knew what was happening. “I’m sorry, babe. Get some more sleep,” she said and kissed his forehead before leaving the room and closing the door behind her.
Comfortable on his pillow again, he felt himself drifting back off to sleep. “I can still get a few more hours,” he thought to himself just before he heard the doorbell ringing repeatedly and his wife rushing to the front door to get it to stop.
It was 8:00 AM and his sons’ friends had already arrived to play. During the rest of the morning, he woke periodically to the sound of their shouting echoing up through his home’s vents.
It was going to be a long summer.