As the oldest child approaches senior year of high school and the youngest breezes through junior high not far behind, a mom can get pretty sentimental, y’ know? It used to be that even when the older child went through big changes, I still felt connected to the “younger child years”, because my kids are four years apart in age. For example, when Daughter #1 became “too mature” to enjoy going to the neighborhood pool every day in the summer, I’d still get to sit at that pool on summer mornings, with other moms of young kids, as Daughter #2 took yearly swim lessons. When Daughter #1 and her friends were old enough to go to the mall by themselves, I’d still accompany Daughter #2 on shopping trips. I had one foot in kid-land and one foot in teen-land. But this summer I am acutely aware that I have both feet pretty well planted in teen-land now, and it’s kinda sad. They don’t need me as much. Our older daughter had an internship at a local theatre from 10-5:30 every day and used public transportation to get there, and is now in New York City for two weeks taking part in a pre-college program for high school students (yes, I did want to bawl my eyes out after helping set up her dorm room, telling her good-bye, and walking away on the streets of NYC alone, but I also was so excited for her, I held it together). My youngest has been spending a lot of time away from home by babysitting and being on a swim team, and spending her own money at the mall…without mom in tow, of course. She recently spent a week in Joplin, Missouri, helping her church youth group repair tornado damage. Whenever either girl is home and has free time, she usually wants to make plans with friends.
Some may think I should be doing cartwheels of happiness over their growing independence, and I’ll admit there have definitely been days when I do that (well, mental cartwheels at least…I’m a lousy gymnast) but at the same time, summer has called up powerful memories of time spent together, and of me coming up with all sorts of camps and activities for them to do, and there’s an underlying sadness that we’ve passed through a certain point of no return (underscore that with the fact that as this summer began for me, so did hot flashes…)
So with all this change happening, I find myself noticing and taking comfort in “constants”—any place or thing or event or ritual that has been around since the kids were born. Things that have remained pretty much unchanged over the past 13-17 years. Which have been hard to find, when I put my mind to it. We don’t live in the same house…most of the girls’ old clothes and toys and games have been given away (with some exceptions—see my post about babysitting)…their first pets have gone to pet heaven… birthdays aren’t celebrated with parties as much anymore (“Mom, I’d rather have the cash instead”) and Christmas and Easter celebrations seem to change every year. Our annual trips to Grandma’s house in Iowa end this summer, as Grandma is moving to a retirement community not far from our house here in Texas…heck, even Spongebob has “left the building”, replaced by Tivo’ed episodes of “Dance Moms”.
Yes, my husband and I have raised our kids in only one community, but a lot has changed within it as well. So much of what was a part of our family’s early years has either gone out of business or moved away: Paint ‘n Party; Discovery Zone; favorite restaurants; the shaved ice stand; the neighborhood grocery store, where we knew all the checkers’ names… the neighborhood parks are still there, but the play equipment has been updated with newer, safer, plastic versions, or not replaced at all (no more merry-go-rounds, “jungle gyms”, or rocket ship slides)… I used to find comfort in the fact that the city rec center where Daughter #2 still takes a gymnastic class is the same rec center I took the girls to for the splash playground and to “Mommy and Me” classes when they were preschoolers…but the wrecking crews recently set up shop in the parking lot and the facility will soon will be torn down, moved and re-built.
Geeze, isn’t there anything that’s remained the same? I did manage to come up with a few stand-outs, listed here in no particular order:
- Luby’s Cafeteria. Still in the same location, still serving up LuAnn platters. And there are those rolling high-chairs lined up in the corner, just like I remember…
- Broadway shows and music. So glad I introduced Daughter #1 to this at around age 2 or 3 in an attempt to expose her to music that both parent and child could enjoy together. Rock was too adult for toddler ears, Barney was too toddler for adult ears, but selections from “Cats”, “Oliver” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” were the perfect fit. When little sis came along, she couldn’t help liking them, too. We still all enjoy going to shows together and listening to the music, and both girls have been in community and/or high school versions of Broadway shows as well. I am so thankful that both high school and community theatre is still thriving in North Texas.
- The city library…still there, along with the same librarian and her turtle puppet that still entertains children at “Lapsit” storytime…and there’s still a wonderful Santa’s Village that’s set up outside the library every holiday season.
- Our minivan, still running at almost 214,000 miles. Purchased before Daughter #2 was born. And no doubt somewhere in a forgotten crack in that van lurks part of a toy from a long ago Happy Meal…
- Our church– though new additions have been built and some staff has changed, many “constants” remain, like the fall pumpkin patch, Vacation Bible School for kids, Sunday morning pancake breakfasts, and lots of people who have watched the girls grow up.
- The 4th of July—Every year we celebrate the 4th of July in the same way: driving to watch a morning parade in the Lakewood neighborhood of Dallas, in the front yard of longtime family friends, and afterwards heading to the park where the parade ends, to indulge in a free snow cone, bottle of water, or cup of beer, depending on preference (and age!) and watch a guy dressed like Uncle Sam hand out awards for the best parade entries. After that, it’s back to our friends’ home for brisket and a potluck of sides and desserts, alongside many of their other friends and family members. All their lives, every Independence Day, our kids have sat on the same curb and caught candy thrown from the floats (with the exception of the two times when they were a part of the parade), gathered in the same dining room for lunch, and posed in the same yard for photos. The same yard where Andy and I sat when we were dating, the same yard where Andy’s late grandmother chuckled as she wore a white straw hat with balloons on top, the same yard where baby Allison and I once wore matching bandana-print dresses (they were heirloom hand-me-downs from my mother-in-law, and she was thrilled to see them, what can I say).
Yes, amidst all the changes, I’m so glad that some things stay the same. I don’t know what the experts would say about the value of raising your kids in one town, or keeping the same die-hard car, but plenty has been written and discussed about the importance of traditions, and how if you don’t have any, you should start some. Traditions “enhance children’s emotional well-being by helping to create feelings of security, continuity and identity,” writes Leah Davies, M.Ed., former Child Development instructor at Auburn University, at her website kellybear.com. I couldn’t agree more. But I would expand that to say that traditions are important to everyone’s well-being…especially menopausal moms of teens.