A few months ago Eric and I were having dinner with Aiden at Cugino’s — our favorite hometown restaurant. When we walked in — there was a wait per usual — Eric scanned the crowd looking for familiar faces. A woman caught his eye as she sat and chatted, waiting for her table. A minute later they were smiling and hugging, she was holding his hand and her eyes were wet with tears.
She was the momma of one of his best friends growing up — a woman he hadn’t seen (he guessed) in 15 … maybe 20 … years or more? She and her husband were seated next to us and we continued to chat for the evening–often she apologized for interrupting our meal, he was quick to let her know she could never be a bother, that he was enjoying the reunion as much as she. They caught up on the past two decades, where people were living, what jobs they had, how old their kids were. She marveled at how much Aiden reminded her of a young E … I mostly listened, smiling, watching the tide of history come in.
As we walked out I commented that she was so sweet, I was glad we ran into her. Eric said, “It would be like you running into Luker, or Songer, or Mitch, or Robert, or J-man, or Z, or Dom, or Mas … in twenty years after not seeing them in all that time.” I started to cry. The thought of not seeing those boys for that long breaks my heart. I know, life moves on. It hit me then, the end of high school isn’t just the end of an era with your own kids … it’s an end of an era with their friends.
The past few weeks I have watched Cooper and his boys–and listened to them consult each other–make plans for a future. A future that doesn’t include me. Doesn’t include our family. Doesn’t include the history we have created together for the past decade and a half. I can’t wait to watch them fly, see where they go, what they do. I am proud of them, excited for them … yet, part of me breaks at the thought.
I have made them breakfast … and dinner and lunch. I have taken them golfing, fishing, swimming, crayfish hunting and rafting. I have taken them on “mandatory fun” hikes to the top of Nub’s Nob and watched fireworks at the beach. We’ve gone to the ocean and the mountains, skiing and snow boarding. I have helped them off the field when their mom’s were not there — and had the same done for me when I was gone. I have watched them hit home runs, score touchdowns, sack the quarterback and score a goal with :06 seconds left. I have gotten a text that says “Home Run!” and another and another from the parents who watched my boy clear the fence when I wasn’t there. I have sent that same text with as much excitement as I received mine.
I have yelled at them and hugged them and comforted them when they were broken. I have cried when they were injured and been ecstatic when they healed. I have been angry when they choose poorly and celebrated when they did the right thing. I have worried and lost sleep over them. I have talked to them about drinking and girls … and drinking and girls. I have watched them light fireworks, jump off the swim platform and catch a field on fire. We have fried fish and eaten venison, tailgated and celebrated a year of second place finishes. I helped them with homework, took them on field trips and worked in their classrooms.
I have listened to them giggle in the hot tub, and (mostly) bit my tongue when they played their music. I have dragged them on planes and across country, I have driven through the night and back again the next day just to watch them play. I have prayed when their parents were ill, and been there when they lost their grandparents. I have hunkered in hotels, and in my van, feeding them (again) while we waited out rain delays and even once hid behind a building waiting out a police order to clear the field! I love these kids. And my kids have been loved back in all these same ways by the moms and dads of these boys. It does take a village, and I have had the best village.
We have created a beautiful tapestry of memories for them — where memories of my children are patch worked together with memories of their friends and their friend’s families. Where they have moms and dads who have done for them what we have done for their buddies. Where they have memories of other kitchens, and couches and bedrooms where they were fed, watched the Tigers and the Mammoth, where they stayed up all night and slept in for hours. Where the siblings of their friends became a special kind of friend, and their parents became second parents to them.
Awhile ago I sent a picture of Jackson and his two best buds to their mom’s. I captioned it with, “I always knew I would fall in love with my own kids. I never knew I would fall in love with other people’s kids, too.” How I love each and every one of them. And how I will look forward to a clandestine meeting in twenty years or so … when I run into one of my boys’ boys while out to dinner. And my smile will reach my eyes and my heart will be full when they hug me and hold my hand as I meet their children and their wife. I will know that every memory held in my heart and in my head is held in theirs as well. I will know that our village did good, that we were the best at loving other people’s kids.