The fireflies will come again this summer. One evening, I will pull The Van into the driveway after a long day and, at the blurred edges of a yard made soft by the dusk, the tiny lights will be there. And I will know that summer is finally here.
My children will pile out of the car and, though I am yearning for jammies and bedtime, I won’t stop them as they run and leap and grab, their laughs echoing up and down the empty street. As I watch them, I will get lost in the memory of another early summer evening at the end of another long day.
It was the last day of school and, at 7:30 am, already seemed as though it had been going on forever. My husband, away on a business trip, had just called from his hotel room where he was enjoying a post-workout room service breakfast. I was shoving toast in my mouth and gulping coffee as I dashed around locating a stray shoe for an American Girl, searching for a lost back pack and arguing with my four-year old about the favorite skirt that suddenly seemed to show a little too much of her (admittedly cute) bottom. When had she gotten so tall?
In my haste, I missed the apprehension in my son’s eyes as he prepared for his final day of kindergarten. Nor did I see the anxiety mounting in my daughter who would, that afternoon, be saying good-bye to her beloved pre-school and following her brother through the kindergarten door that fall.
Because minutes in the morning seem to go by faster than minutes any other time of the day, our pace didn’t slow. I yelled commands over my shoulder as I scurried past the kitchen table, pausing only long enough to swipe impatiently at my daughter’s tears in response to my strident tone and frantic urgency. I hugged her, willed her to calm down and wished, not for the first time, that she would grow up.
On that gloriously bright, brutally hot June day there was no time to walk to school or enjoy the sun on our faces. I hustled them into The Van, swearing under my breath as they buckled, sweating as I dropped them at their respective schools, then ran four hour’s worth of errands in under an hour, and arrived, wild-eyed, back at school just in time to witness my son exiting his kindergarten door for the last time. My memory of that momentous event will have to suffice as, in the chaos of the morning, I had forgotten to grab my camera.
A celebratory lunch with my now-first grader devolved into an argument over whether we should review his report card then (his idea) or wait until later (mine) and my daughter’s camp pick up became a test of wills over what should be considered appropriate swing time. A visit to our pool deteriorated into a session of epic bickering that culminated in my son peeing down his leg in the bathroom stall and my daughter dropping her skirt into the toilet.
Sun-stunned and weary, we battled our way through dinner and arrived home just as the first fireflies lit up our yard.
On that night too, my kids begged to try and catch some and instead of herding them inside, I let them go. I was mesmerized as I watched them laughing, calling to each other, darting around the yard after each wink of light, forgetting our hectic, largely rotten day – so resilient and forgiving it made my eyes sting. It was magical, those few minutes of lavender twilight with the fireflies in the gathering darkness.
My daughter began to cry, frustrated at the ephemera, wanting to catch and hold the fleeting brightness in her hands. I told her to stand still and look. And she did and we both saw the flickers in the bushes and in the grass, right next to us. But if you’re running, you miss them – they’re gone by the time you get there. It’s only when you stop moving and just look that you see them.
She started off again and for the first time that day, I stood still and just looked. I saw my six-year old, who, on that memorable day when he became a first grader, wanted nothing more than to spend a few quiet moments with me savoring his glowing report card. And I saw my almost five-year old who had only asked for a push on the swing and some company while she ate her breakfast.
Then, I will blink and those long-ago children will vanish, replaced by the tall, slender fourteen-year old who is again in transition, this time to high school. He hasn’t stopped relishing our time alone when we can catch up and reconnect. And the rising 8th grader whose finely tuned antennae can, even today, detect the slightest shifts in my emotions and who loves nothing more than my companionship. These almost-adults who still find the magic in fireflies even as they move further and further from the children I hold in my mind.
As I watch, one or the other of them will stop to share the secrets of catching fireflies with the new face on the lawn, their little sister, now the same age as her brother was then, the last of my children to walk out that kindergarten door.
I will resist the urge to empty the car of the packages and trash and detritus of the day, or pull up weeds or put out the recycling. Instead, I will stand and look. I will watch as they point and laugh and chase. The big kids will open gently cupped hands to their sister and as their heads bend together, I won’t have to hear what they’re saying to know. They’ll be telling her to hold still and look. They’ll say that if you’re running, you miss them – they’ll be gone by they time you get there.