I took an early lunch Friday. Ruby’s grade school was celebrating Children’s Day and she wanted me to come and play.
I walked into her classroom, one of the portables. The door stood wide open to the spring breezes and sunshine.
“Look, it’s Ruby’s Mom!”
“It’s Mrs. Isham!”
Dozens of little faces turned towards me.
I waved to them.
“Do you remember me?”
One taller girl, freckled and blue-eyed, looked at me, waiting for my answer.
“Hi, McKenzie,” I said.
I thought, I’ve known most of you since kindergarten. I’ve watched from the sidelines as you grew. You formed friendships and dissolved them, changing interests driving the bonds. You learned the language you didn’t speak at home, either English or Spanish. You lost teeth and grew in new, permanent ones too large for your mouths. Some of you have the beginnings of adult bodies. One of you has an adult voice, too.
I helped pass out paper towels and juice. Each kid got a concha, a Mexican sweet bread shaped like a shell. These measured about 6 inches in diameter, dusted in colored sugar. The students talked and milled around as they ate their snacks and decorated drawstring backpacks.
Finally, we reached the piñata event – my favorite. Ruby held my hand as we walked out to the basketball court. I think she wanted to make sure I didn’t leave her. She hugged me and leaned into me the entire time. I held her, one arm across her chest. How long will she want me to be close to her? For Ruby, her love language is time. And a close second is physical affection. If you’re always gone, which I seem to be these days, both of those are at a premium.
It proved a huge engineering feat to get the piñata hung over the rail in covered area. One of the helpers had to use a sneaker to weight it down. The piñata, a five-pointed star in red crepe paper covered with pictures of Captain America, bobbed and swung in the breeze. All around us, kids from other classes struck at those empty papier-mache objects with plastic bats. No candy inside their cavities, mind you, because projectile sweets are dangerous. Never mind the bats in small hands wielded with incredible passion.
As I watched the blindfolded kids strike out at the elusive star, I thought about the terminal nature of childhood. Kids want so badly to grow up. They want their freedom. They want to be adults. They blast away at the immature parts of themselves, pushing themselves towards maturity. They sneak makeup and try to drive when their feet don’t quite reach the pedals. Yet the entire setup of childhood is temporary. It doesn’t last. The shining star of tender youth glows, a fragile beacon while it lasts. That star goes supernova when beaten with the bat of relentless time. We don’t realize its ephemeral beautiful until too late.
Holding Ruby close to my side, my galloping mind settled down. I saw how rhododendrons bloomed on the edge of the playground. Trees blew in the fresh air, their backs turned to the wind. I breathed. My spirit soared, in the moment at last, ready to play. This moment would remain with me, even as the pinata hit the ground.
(He really *is* cool.)