Although we’ve attended this event for several consecutive years, this time, it felt different. Very different. Why? Because The Spouse and I allowed the Picket Fence Post kids to go off with their friends, to enjoy rides, to spend their allowance money on ridiculous things like pens that zap your hand when you press the button on the side (something that thrilled The Youngest Boy who kept zapping himself) and slide down inflatable slides with their friends. No parents with them.
It was a strange feeling to be sitting on the blanket next to The Spouse without any offspring next to us. It was just us, the two of us, like in our pre-kid days. Sure, the kids, their friends in tow, periodically checked in, showed us their purchases and scarfed down some of the sweets and beverages we’d brought along (you know your kids will be checking in with you when you have food), but then they zoomed back out amongst the crowd again with promises to return when the fireworks started.
As we watched other parents with younger children -- clueless toddlers and willful preschoolers -- chase them about, it was an odd thing to realize that this is where we are in our lives, with our parenting: We’re giving our kids some latitude, some freedom to test out, like a bicycle with training wheels. They have time alone with their friends but know that Mom and Dad (and a cooler of food and drink) are close by. We’re no longer having to hold their hands, watching over them every second. They’re standing up on their little colt legs and watching over themselves, with their parents providing a safety net if they need it. (It feels similar to when one of the two older kids babysit someone else’s children and either The Spouse or I are available, a phone call away, if they need us.)
By the time the main event – fireworks – started, all three of them had returned. And even though two of her friends had decided to sit with us, The Girl wasn't shy about leaning against me and allowing me to give her a hug. The Youngest Boy, who had blown off my admonition to bring a sweatshirt with him, also leaned against me but I think it was more about getting warm than it was about affection. Even with their freedom, they still came back. I hope that’s a good sign.