The soundtrack of this summer has been the ukulele. Simon’s been strumming and singing everywhere: perched on his bed, lazing in the back yard, on vacation in Maui, even sitting shotgun in the car as we’ve rolled down El Camino Real. Books of songs by Jack Johnson, Jake Shimabukuro and Israel Kamakawiwoʻole (aka Brudda Iz) lay open on every surface in his room, and right now his new-for-college computer is nothing more than a high-end uke tab search system.
Brudda Iz’s most famous album—the one featuring his now ubiquitous “Wonderful World/Over the Rainbow” mash-up—is called “Facing Future.” And that album title describes precisely where my little family stands now: on the brink of a new life for all of us. Simon, our youngest, is fledging, and in less than a week, he’ll be off on his new college adventure. For him, the future is chockablock, fuller than full, and so dazzlingly bright, he can’t quite look at it head on. He’s been turning briefly toward his future, then running back to the safety of old friends and old haunts all summer long. Next week, he’ll have no choice but to march squarely forward, toward all that shiny newness.
Last night, he said goodbye to his older brother, Ian, who is leaving for a weeklong out-of-town gig before heading back to college himself. After spending most of the summer engaged in his first office job, Ian is beginning, not just to glimpse his future, but to shape it. As a parent, it’s an exhilarating thing to watch—akin to watching a sculptor’s first cuts at a new slab of marble. I can see him beginning to visualize the form his adult life might take, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his face has suddenly taken on a more manly appearance of late—it’s as if he’s literally squaring his jaw as he works to map out the best path forward.
Craig and I are facing future too, and perhaps a bit more cheerfully than other parents we know. The house will be quiet, electrical outlets will be freed up, and there won’t be so many shoes to trip over. Off-peak travel will miraculously become possible for the first time in 20 years. These are no small things.
Self-doubt creeps in too, though. Two decades of at-home parenting and odd volunteer jobs don’t leave one with much of an identity after the children are gone. Ian may be carving marble, but I’m going to have to shape a future out of thin air. I know that I don’t simply want to be busy. It’s easy to run around completing tasks. Much harder is sitting quietly with oneself and deciding what is truly important. For me, at least in part, facing future will mean reaching back and reconnecting with people and places I’ve loved.
For years, I’ve wondered what became of a dear high school friend. We lost touch about midway through my college years. A few weeks ago, I Googled her, and there she was. After a brief email exchange, we spoke on the phone for the first time in 36 years, and all the warmth flooded back. She’s as lovely and delightful as I remembered, and I’m eager to reestablish a meaningful connection. There are a few more old friendships that I’d love to rekindle as well. I have my work cut out for me.
As for places, the mellow sound of the uke reminds me that I want to spend more time in Hawaii, a place I called home for one short year of my childhood. 1969 was the year of going to school barefoot, of setting off firecrackers on Chinese New Year, of geckos and chameleons scampering across our living room walls, and of snacking on dried cuttlefish and Icees at Toyo’s Superette. It’s time to go back and visit the green mountains encircling Manoa Valley, the monkey bars I swung on at Noelani school, and the choppy waves that terrified me at Bellows Beach.
Last week, my mother gave me the old Kamaka ukulele that she bought, and learned to play, during our year on Oahu. It is cracked and broken, the bridge separated from its satiny koa wood body. It’s still beautiful, though desiccated after 46 years away from the humidity of the islands. Like my old friendships, here is something both neglected and important, something that I wish to restore. Both projects will take patience and care, and may not turn out as I expect or hope.
Still, it’s time for all of us to take that next step, let go of our fears and our expectations, and freefall into the future. It feels a bit like we’re all in a giant slingshot just waiting for the snap that will send us sailing. I’m lucky to have Craig by my side, always encouraging me and swatting away my doubts.
As they say in Hawaii, “Eia Au, Eia ‘Oe” (Here I am, here you are). Sometimes we’re together, sometimes apart, but with a bit of luck, we’re all moving forward, more or less together.