We did it! We all made it to our town's annual summer outdoor Justin Roberts concert last night, and we all stayed through to the end, even Genevieve who should have been in bed two hours earlier, and Julia who was tired not only from being up past her bedtime but from a busy day hiking the St. Olaf Natural Lands in the sun.
And you knew I would say it, didn't you?, that it was worth the exhausted babies, that it will clearly always be worth it, that we will be doing it every single year until the girls are too old and complain that kids' music is dorky, and we'll probably still do it even then by telling Julia to come just to keep Genevieve company, and then when Genevieve's too old we'll tell them both to come and help entertain our friends' younger children--anything to keep this sweet summer tradition alive as long as possible. Anything to dance with babies in the park, to witness the preschooler version of starstruck, to watch the sun set and the peonies sink under their own weight and the families come out in droves--trikes and scooters and strollers and bikes with trailers, SUVs spilling lawn chairs and picnic blankets--, anything to stay a young family (isn't that really it?) just a little bit longer.
But oh, what a different experience it was this year compared to last.
Do you remember last year? When our first summer in this new town was just beginning, and we were the parents of only one, and the evening bloomed with that sense of a magical first? You know what I mean, don't you? When you look back and say, Oh, remember our first Justin Roberts concert in Northfield? Remember how wonderful it was? Remember how Julia danced? Remember the songs? Remember walking away afterward, and humming? And part of what you're really saying is, Remember our first summer here? Remember our first friends here? Remember the summer Genevieve was born, and how the small-town hospital was so nice to us? Remember how she fell asleep to Justin Roberts lullabies when she was four weeks old and had colic?
Last year it was just us and Julia, and we immersed ourselves in the music and the dancing antics of a joyful crowd of kiddos; we felt surrounded by an aura of blissful relaxation. We knew almost no one there, and while surveying the idyllic small-town scene, the sense was one of, THIS is our town? Really? This Norman Rockwell-esque, too-sweet-to-be-true, kind and happy community is where we live now?
This year we had a baby to wrangle as well, which meant that there was no relaxation to be had, at least not the kind of relaxation that might be defined by sitting down, sitting still, and keeping one's clothes and hair free of drool and wet Cheerios. This year I felt like I knew every other family there; it seemed like everywhere I turned there was another mother I know, whose kids play with mine at playgroup or the park, whose stroller I have seen parked outside the coffee shop or the library. This year I couldn't tell you half the songs in Justin's set--as much as I adore them all--because I spent most of the evening comparing notes on potty training and preschool registration with two other moms as our toddlers grooved near the stage and our babies pulled our hair.
The families laughed; the babies clapped; the children danced and screamed and sang. The sun still set and the breeze still slowed and Justin still riled everyone up in the most genuine, and generous, way; I imagine he always does, no matter where he is performing. It was still wonderful, just wonderful in a different way.
I suppose that's because it's a different summer, right? I mean, Genevieve's here, for one thing. Julia's three, for another. We've been here over a year now. We've made many friends. If you miss the second verse of "Meltdown" because you're busy running your palm over a friend's newborn baby's hair, or squatting down at eye level to congratulate your best friend's three-year-old on wearing undies now, not diapers? Or if you're thanking your daughter's favorite library volunteer for coming all the way through the crowd just to say hello to her and hold her hand, making her smile shyly and flush with delight? Well, there are worse things.
It was lovely, all of it. And there is always next year, when things will surely be different, and the same, all over again.