Friday, October 5, 2012

The End of Something Sweet

Two nights ago we attended the annual open house and picnic at Stella's pre-school in Louisville. It's so hard to believe this is the third one of these we have been to, and the last, at least at pre-school. She was two when she started this school, and is now four years old. A big girl, one of the older kids in the school. Just two years ago we didn't know anyone in town, really, and she was afraid to talk to anyone, even her teachers. Now she proudly showed us where she plays, we talked to her teachers, and I feel like I was at last year's open house just a few months ago. Something about kids, they age you in dog years, in a good way. After the open house we brought our picnic dinner across the street to the playground. It was a perfect late summer/early fall evening, cool, the weather held out, so no rain. But warm enough to not need a jacket. There were maybe 50-60 kids there, and their families. We set up our blankets next to a new family we have gotten to know, and near our older friends, the Kolers. Stella is classmates with the daughter of the new family, a sweet little girl named Rhia. (I am not sure about the spelling here.) Rhia's parents are lovely, warm people, as are so many of the people at Stella's school, from the principal to the teachers, to the other staff, to the other parents, to the children themselves. We feel so blessed that we have been able to give her this gift for the past two years, this time at this little oasis of sweetness and kindness. Mr. John Gage, one of Louisville's treasures, a wonderful folk singer, set up his guitar, sat down in a chair, and began to play. The children danced, ran around, or played on the playground. The light began to fade, and I wished I could freeze time right there, for just about ever. Or, at least, take it for a moment, bottle it, this sweetness, and open it up on a cloudy cold day when Stella's 13, or leaving for college, or whenever we need it. The children ran, sang, listened, the parents talked, and reclined. The food was eaten, the drinks were drunk, and you could really understand, for a moment, why Holden Caulfield wanted to be the catcher in the rye after all. Why do they have to grow up? Why can't it always be like this? I ran up to Stella and she chased me, then, asked to be swung in the little kids swing, for old time's sake. I obliged, but it wasn't too long before she wanted to go back to our blanket to finisher her macaroni and cheese. I took off my shoes, she did the same, but left her pink and white kitty-cat socks on. Soon she played on the jungle gym in just her socks, but we made her choose. It was either shoes, or barefoot, not just socks. She chose to play barefoot, in the early Autumn night, climbing, sliding, being just her wonderful self. All too soon John Gage played "Puff The Magic Dragon," a song all about a child who grows up maybe just a bit too much. I looked at Randi. "This has to be one of the all-time bummer kids songs," I said. Randi looked back, so sincere: "I know, but I just love it." The truth is, right then, right there, the song almost made me cry, despite myself, as I saw Stella start to slip, in a moment, away from being just a child. Into something better and bigger, but a door was ever so gently being closed, and by having her in my life, I got to experience it again, and remember my own far lost young childhood, and my own late, late summer nights, nights that still held the waning power of summer's magic, but were bordered by the beautiful melancholy of autumn.