I can see us clearly. Five across, loosely spaced, we walked down the middle of our street. My son bouncing or side stepping, that fast shuffle move I struggled through during high school basketball practice decades ago, he does effortlessly. His nine-year-old body unable to keep any pace for more than a step or two. My youngest, five, doing double time every few steps to keep up with her siblings. On the way home, she will be riding high on her daddy’s shoulders, but for now, she is determined to keep up. My oldest, holding the dog’s fully-extended leash, walking along-side me content as she chose today’s destination. My husband at the far edge, maybe even a half step back, enjoying being along for the outing after a week of traveling. We are out for a hike, through the woods and along a lake near our home in Kalamazoo, walking along the street, through the old gate, down the path to the lake, and out across the open fields. Taking turns leading, searching for discoveries, gathering a few rocks and sticks along the way. A couple of hours later we walked five across, loosely spaced down the middle of our street, sweaty, a little tired, and content. This was the sweet spot.
The diapers disappeared, along with temper tantrums, the school calendar gave a rhythm to life but before high school academics and activities absorbed the kids’ attention. It was a time of knobby-knees; the baby fat was gone, replaced with lean, active kids. There was enthusiasm and excitement for any family activity, parenting went from watching them on a playground to full engagement-playing soccer, basketball, or any sport with a ball in the yard. There were nights of board games, cards, and family movies. Anything could be an event, do it twice, and it was a tradition. I put streamers and signs up in the dining room one year for my daughter’s birthday and left them up until her brother’s birthday two weeks later, and it became our family’s birthday tradition, something I did for the following twenty years. Whether it was the streamers, Friday night fun, walks in the woods, or kickball in the cul-de-sac, the kids were all in. Dan and me, too.
It was a time of explanations and responsibility. There were endless discussions about social encounters, everything from introducing yourself on the first day of dance class to a respectful response when a friend said something mean. Gaining responsibility went from kindergarten Meg walking to a friend’s house all by herself to the Saturday night when MK babysat her siblings. I realized our last babysitter was only a year or so older than MK and it was embarrassing to have a babysitter. I employed what I hoped to be a fool-proof plan for successful sibling babysitting. I paid everyone. She got paid to be in charge, but not weld power unnecessarily, and her siblings were paid to be good. It was a win, win, win; MK gained responsibility, the kids had a little pocket money, and we had a short evening out at neighbors.
When growing up, a friend told her daughters, “You are writing the story of your life every day.” Each day’s actions-large and small-mattered. I felt that keenly during the kids’ elementary and middle school years, that every day we were writing the story of our family. Their childhood memories were made, be it digging ‘for China’ on the beach in South Haven, Michigan, playing travel soccer, or riding up and down the neighborhood streets no-handed. And although I wondered if the tennis, dance or drum lessons would go from a fleeting interest to a life-long pursuit, I wasn’t bogged down by it. Instead I focused on the daily habits: getting to practices, lessons, and school on time, ensuring that assignments were completed to the best of their ability, reading to and with them every day, helping them complete household chores, teaching them to be caring and honest. It was an age of accountability, for children and parents. They had razor sharp memories. “Remember at the red light on Stadium Drive Tuesday morning when you promised we would stop at DQ after school on Friday”, a voice said. They held me to my word. Mmmmmm, a blizzard from Dairy Queen, that’s a sweet spot, too.