Every summer I experience at least one event that, much to my sorrow, reminds me that my children are no longer, well, children.
One year involved the dismantling of the backyard swing set. Discolored and weather beaten, its cedar beams rickety and in sore need of reinforcement, I reluctantly listed it under “free stuff” on Craigslist. Yes, I’d paid $2,500 for it but wasn’t interested in recouping my investment. The (hopefully) handyman who arrived in his pickup truck and hauled it away paid me back tenfold in “thank yous,” repeatedly saying he, unfortunately, could never afford such a fine set despite working two jobs.
“You have no idea how happy you’ve made my kids,” he said.
The following year brought the shredding of the park district summer pool pass. A plastic card that once enjoyed status in my wallet directly behind my driver’s license, it had been relegated to the kitchen drawer by the end of the previous pool season. My daughters, now teenagers, were cooling off in friend’s backyard pools, free from hourly lifeguard whistle blasts signaling “adults only” swims.
Ah, yes, the friends. Also getting older. Bicycles and scooters gave way to driver’s licenses. Disney princess bathing suits, pigtails and stick-on tattoos have vanished, replaced with bikinis, cornrows and, in some cases, permanent body ink. The girls who enter my house still respectfully address me as “Mr. Schwem” even though they are becoming more my equals as opposed to my responsibilities.
Nowhere was this more evident than at our town’s recent Fourth of July fireworks celebration. Actually occurring on July 3, the town annually rolls out the red carpet to thousands of residents and visitors who haul coolers, grills and blankets to the spacious park district field, cordon off their terrains and contentedly eat, drink and socialize until darkness falls and the sky alights in color.
Around 6:30 p.m. my wife and I joined the fray, meeting our group at our usual spot, “just to the right of the first base line at the southernmost baseball diamond.” When you’ve been coming to fireworks year after year, you learn to describe your territory in very concise terms.
I looked around at our friends, whose kids had grown up with mine and, consequently were now also in their teens and early 20s. Most were nowhere to be found, although Tom and his wife Janet had managed to entice their four children, now ranging in age from 14 to 22, to join them on the family blanket. I knew the kids well, having coached Tom’s two daughters in Little League years ago.
Around 8:30 p.m. a full hour before the fireworks, I let out a slight moan upon realizing my cooler was empty.
“How did that happen?” I asked my wife. “I thought I packed plenty.”
That’s when Rachel, the eldest of Tom’s kids, gestured to her cooler, still chock full of beer and ready-made margaritas in cans.
“Here Mr. Schwem, help yourself,” she said.
“Thanks, Rachel,” I said, plunging my hand into the ice before abruptly stopping and realizing what I was about to do.
Pilfer a beer off my former shortstop.
Suddenly it seemed positively creepy, akin to dating the boss’s daughter or becoming, as Chris Rock hilariously described in a famous bit, “the old guy at the club.” Wasn’t it only yesterday that Rachel and her teammates were begging me for ice cream following a victory? And leaving remnants of their treats on my car seat as I drove them home? Now she was legally sipping alcoholic libations and asking if I wanted to partake.
“Uh, that’s OK, Rachel,” I said, pulling my hand back. “Save ’em for your friends.”
I retreated, empty handed, to my lawn chair and sat next to my wife. She noticed my discomfort.
“What’s the matter with you?” she asked. “Are you upset because you didn’t bring enough beer?”
No,” I replied. “I’m upset I didn’t bring a time machine.”