Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ch-ch-ch-changes . . .

by Judy Merrill Larsen

This has become my summer of whiplash. No, I'm not teaching a kid to drive (thank God) or scheduling visits with a chiropractor.  I'm just experiencing those moments that point out to me how quickly time is passing.

This was crystallized for me at our annual 4th of July party last week.  I've been having this party every year since 1991.  I have the perfect front porch and yard for our annual get-together because we live two blocks from the park where they shoot off the fireworks, so while we party on the lawn, bathrooms and beverages handy, we are entertained by the parade of park-goers pulling wagons and coolers and hauling lawn chairs.  Folks who haven't managed to cultivate friendships with people who have houses close to the park.  Some years, we've been known to good naturedly heckle the folks walking by (never loudly enough for them to hear, just for our own amusement.  Well, except for the year an adult dressed as Uncle Sam sauntered past.  Is it too late to issue a formal apology?).  But, I digress.

These parties have a comfortable sameness to them.  Year after year.  It's a toehold.  A touchpoint.  My kids love the tradition, and the families who've been coming year after year don't even need an invitation.  The 4th of July?  We go to Judy's.  Simple.  The tubs of ice and beer will be under the same tree.  The speakers will be placed in the open window and Springsteen will be blaring out for all to hear.  

But, this year, sitting on the porch, sipping an icy drink, I glanced at the kids sitting under the tree laughing and talking.  And it hit me.  Half of them are adults.  Most of them are my height or more.  None of them needed help with a juice box straw.  I looked at the parents, all dear friends, and we don't seem older.  A few lines here or there, yes.  A paunch, maybe.  How did these kids dare to grow up on us?  Wasn't it just last year--or maybe the year before--that they were playing with dolls and legos and ninja turtles?  That we parents were overseeing the use of sparklers?  ("Careful!  Watch out for the little ones!  Not so close to his face!  Put them in the bucket of water when you're done!").  This year I actually discussed the merits and drawbacks of the Bacardi Mojito mix with the girl (now 22!) next door.  (Add some lime and mint and they are boffo.  Um, and dangerous.)  And when I lamented that we were running out of ice, another girl offered to drive her car and pick some up for us.  This was a girl who hadn't been born at our first party.

And it all got me to thinking about the years passing and how lucky I am to have these friends and traditions that serve as a yardstick of longevity. I always wanted to be the kind of mom who religiously marked my kids' height on the closet door or kept perfect scrapbooks documenting each step. Alas, I'm not. But I am the kind of mom who throws a great 4th of July party every year. And these same kids who grew up on us overnight, dammit, and who make food and beer requests as I prepare my grocery list, have these parties as a mid-summer marker in their memories. And these same kids will, in a few years (please, not too soon!!), bring their own babies to these parties and the chain will start all over.

And so, while I glance longingly backward at the little kids they once were, I also am looking into the future at the young ones who'll be joining us down the road. And I can sit here in the present, on this hot July day, and be happy for parties and traditions that seem to go on and on and on.


Sleeping with Ward Cleaver said...

Oh Judy, this made me teary-eyed because we are going through much the same thing. Our vacation to Europe with two families of dear friends--now a tradition to vacation with them--involved passing the pitcher of wine to the kids' table at dinner each night. Several of the kids ended up stumbling into summer romances with each other. But only yesterday we were cutting up their meat on their dinner plates!
(by the way, I'm glad that you too intended to mark their growth yet didn't. I always meant to do that...)

Barb McKone said...

Judy, you made me cry!! I so love your porch on the fourth, and how sad and sweet and happy it is to see our children still there, still tossing those washers, still watching for their school friends to pass by on the street to call out a greeting from the front porch. May your party live on. Our babies sure aren't babies anymore, and neither are we. Sorry I missed it this year... although the family reunion was sure filled with little kids with sparklers... always a few singed fingertips!

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

I promise my goal was NOT to make you two cry . . . but I guess we're in the same boat, looking backward, looking forward, and being amazed at how the days have flown.

Jenny, crazy isn't it when those romances/crushes occur between kids who used to torment each other?

Barb, no singed fingertips for us--there was nary a firework to be found (perhaps that's because your hubby wasn't there?). Next year, though, for sure.

Daisy said...

Sigh. I love those traditions: the Rockwellesque gatherings that include the young ones as they grow older. July 4th is a perfect time for get-togethers like this.