It’s summer. We do summers especially well here in the north, where snow may fall in October or May. Even early June sometimes keeps us in the occasional sweatshirt, so when summer really comes it’s like cracking an egg, sunshine and warmth running thick and golden across our town.
I take the kids to the town festival – my two little ones, and two more who fall into the sweet category of chosen-family. I’ve known them since their momma could hold them both at the same time, one on each hip. They’ve known my kids from birth. Even before that, when my babies were still in my womb, the boys prayed for them by name, earnest and velvet-rich words of children who know their prayers are heard and avail much.
My children are silent and awestruck. They take it all in: fried foods and flashing lights and music and crowds. I’ve got a strip of ride tickets in my hand and a couple of guys who can’t wait to use them. The rides seemed so innocuous five years ago, but now I feel my stomach plunge as I watch them careen into the sky. They go so high. They go so fast. I lean forward to tell my kids the screams are fun screams. I say a quick little prayer that the boys will choose rides that aren’t named after ways to die.
They’re preteens now. Their faces grow more angled, their shoulders broaden, foreshadowing the young men they are becoming. They choose the Matterhorn, which, despite its mountain moniker, stays blissfully low to the ground. They’re old enough to catch the eye of two whispering girls who hop into the car behind them, and young enough not to notice. They wave at us enthusiastically before the ride starts. We wave back, standing in the shadow of a midway stall where a dunk-tank clown taunts the passersby. For the next ninety seconds, the boys are a blur. Our eyes search for them, but before we can point them out, they’ve flown by.
They exit the ride smiling, and my daughter decides that she wants to ride too. We’re nowhere near the kiddie rides, but she is adamant. I’m about to tell her no, to offer a bribe or consolation prize, when I see the Tilt-a-Whirl. It’s bubble-gum pink with cupped benches that spin in small circles. This ride’s greatest risk seems to be centrifugal vomit, so I say yes and hand over three tickets.
She hops out of the double stroller and they climb the stairs hand-in-hand. The sign says she has to ride with a responsible person, and I debate that definition in my head. We wait forever, my mind contriving possible disasters. What if her shoelace gets stuck in the track as they walk to their car, and no one notices, and the ride starts up? What if she hates it, screams in fear for the next two minutes? I call up instructions to have her sit in between the boys, and they nod. One puts a protective hand on her shoulder.
They board the ride. She’s snug in the middle, like when they play video games on the couch and she wedges herself between them to watch. They pull the bar down across their laps, and she grabs on. When the ride starts, their car spins and I can’t see them. When it spins into view again, her face is pure joy. Her eyes dart from side to side as she tries to focus, mouth agape, laughing. The boys laugh with her. Her head lolls forward a little, and then the car catches a hill and spins faster. She leans back, looks up, laughing harder. I laugh, too, suddenly amused and relieved and sentimental all at once.
It’s so beautiful, this moment blinking in the midway lights. How did we get here so soon? Sometimes it terrifies me, the speed of this life, the dips ahead I am blind to see. It’s warm and gold like summer, though, this journey with the people I love. We sit leg to leg and shoulder to shoulder, holding tight and laughing, heads thrown back to the sky.