I don’t normally look forward to the Super Bowl. It’s not that I lack affection for the Patriots; it’s the sport of football itself that leaves me indifferent.
But this year I found myself looking forward to the Big Sunday. Sometimes it takes a few years of repetition before I begin to recognize a ritual for what it is, but for the past five years or so, we’ve watched the game at the same house, attending a party that seems to double in size every year.
And although big parties aren’t always my favorite place to be, this one is special because the guest list is loosely centered around the families of Tim’s wide circle of casual friends: the boys with whom he’s played baseball, sat in class, played at recess, and attended birthday parties for the past seven years or so.
It’s a group of people – parents and kids alike – whom I generally really like. But more than that, this year for the first time I began to sense how transient this ritual might well turn out to be. Our boys have all hung out together or at least attended school and played on teams together over the past several years, but that probably won’t last too much longer. In another two years, they’ll start high school; those who go to the public high school will attend classes with three times as many kids from the neighboring town as from their own, and some will go to private schools nearby or even off to boarding school. They’ll still be happy to see each other and maybe they’ll become part of Carlisle’s traditional day-after-Thanksgiving soccer game, an event that typically draws together old friends after they’ve gone off to college. But this particular group of fifteen or twenty boys won’t make up Tim’s daily peer set anymore, and their parents won’t be such a regular part of my life either.
I find that hard to face, but in a way this sentiment is very much in keeping with how I’ve been feeling ever since the start of the school year: Everything is perfect so please stop the clock right now. Both of the kids are happy and well-adjusted, with a healthy mix of social, recreational and academic interests. Holly is finally past the mercurial stages that can make the early years of school difficult; Tim isn’t yet thinking about SAT scores or learning to drive. This, right now, fourth and seventh grade, this is perfect. This is where I would freeze us, if I could.
And so as I began coring peppers and mixing filling for the tray of chilis rellenos I was bringing to the Super Bowl party, I thought of the other parents whose presence in my life I had taken for granted for so long: from the sometimes-hilarious, sometimes-tedious days of toddler playgroups, to the continuous birthday party circuit of their early grade school years, to the spring and summer baseball games at which we spend so much time gabbing. Even as I recognized all the specific privileges that my parenting circumstances afforded me – a friendly and safe community full of like-minded families with similar priorities – I indulged once in a while in twinges of boredom, admitting to myself if no one else that I’d rather be reading a book or working on an article than attending another library sing-along.
And yet as with so many things, the awareness that it won’t in fact last forever is finally making me appreciate it. Tim will probably always have friends, but not these friends; I’ll always have other parents to share the parenting experience with, but not these same couples I’ve known for almost a decade. The boys will grow apart and so will we. Even now, the boys hang out after school at the library or the general store or the soccer field on their own, so we parents don’t spend as much time gathered together watching them play. Soon we’ll see even less of each other, and that realization makes me sorry.
So this year I headed off to the Super Bowl party with something I didn’t usually take along: a sense of anticipation. I was looking forward to seeing all those other adults whom I see less now than I used to. Tempis fugit, in this situation as in all others. I don’t know how many more years this particular party will happen for, or who will attend in future years. This time, I’m looking forward to all those familiar faces. We grow older as the boys grow up, and it’s good to be spending time together once again.