Once again, as predictable as the tides, I’m smack in the congested middle of the end-of-school-year marathon. Where a few years ago, I scrambled to cafeterias, classrooms and auditoriums for my children, now I’m rushing around for the grandkids.
To the awards ceremony. The dance performance. The preschool graduation. The music recital. The entrepreneur fair. The this and the that of milestone childhood events.
As usual I have no time. I have work deadlines and urgent house repairs. I have an elderly father to care for, a van that needs its tires rotated, a dentist appointment that can’t be moved yet again and eyeglasses that should be updated sooner rather than later. The laundry has piled up, too — and did I mention that something mysterious is lurking in the garage?
Yes, my calendar is so full, my social commitments (namely birthday parties, baby showers, weddings and other wonderful niceties) so numerous that I have to consult my smartphone periodically to make sure I have the correct time and that I’m headed to the right address. This isn’t intended as bragging. It’s simply the reality of belonging to a large family whose tentacles prove forever durable and strong.
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But here we are at the edge of summer. Duty calls. In addition to the ceremonies, I must assume the pinch-hitter role in the bottom of the ninth.
One adult child texts: Can you pick up the girls after early release?
Another: Dance today. Can you swing it?
And another: No preschool on the seventh. Can you watch the girls?
The frenzied quality of these requests, the memory of chaotic afternoons and the dashing around from field to court to some other venue is oh-so familiar. But now I’m older, slower and prone to total exhaustion by 9 p.m., even as my job as occasional chauffeur, intermittent homework supervisor and sporadic hairdresser and wardrobe consultant has remained constant. Lucky for me, some might argue, that my life is so rich with people and activities, so full of blessings. I know all too well that I should not take them for granted.
Yet I am half-tempted to escape. Disappear. Head north, alone and unencumbered. I wistfully envision the footloose life of some of my friends, who travel the world and dine on exotic cuisine.
That wishing lasts about 30 seconds, though. I don’t run away. I attend instead.
So I am here (or there or everywhere) in a church full of chattering parents bedecked with cameras or in a seat saved by one of my co-grandmothers. The theme of the preschool show this year is the ’80s, my decade, my history, but I fear falling asleep, chin to chest, if I sit too long. My thoughts race down a long To Do list that feels to never grow shorter. I should, and I must, and I ought. But all those tasks must wait, for now.
The microphone crackles to life. Cindy Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” blares out. The youngest of the granddaughters, my precious Lea, appears onstage with her class, lime-colored bow clipped to her long brown tresses, pink sweatbands encircling her tiny wrists. She shimmies, she hops, she shakes. She belts out the words she knows.
And then she spots me in the audience, three rows down. Our eyes lock. She smiles wide. Her face could light up every branch of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
Then I think: This is why. This, this. This smile, this look. The joy in those eyes is the reason I drop everything to come. It is a reminder of what really matters, what holds true when everything else is gone. Not the stuff, not the money, not the gifts — but my time and my presence.
I am where I should be.