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Fireworks and Fireflies

“He’s smarter than I am now…” The thought darts through my mind from time to time, punctuating our evolving conversations. My almost 17 year old son and I are enjoying a private, cozy chat on the worn leather sofa, as day fades to night. We are comparing what right and left mean in religion versus in politics, imagining the realities of the Israeli army, projections for the global economic future, and discussing how to formulate life values. We’ve been devoting more of these talks to his professional future options, lately- not in a driven way, but more exploratory. Will he be an entrepreneur, an academic, a medical researcher?

But it’s not really about any of that. It’s about him, stretching his mental wings, trying on cosmic binoculars, while I humbly observe and discreetly snap a photo. And it’s about me, savoring these precious, elusive, diminishing moments to still be his Mom, before I recede into being his mom. I still have parental wisdom to share with him, but his dazzling mind now easily holds more knowledge than mine, I think. He thinks faster, and is more clever. As a toddler and young child he was full of questions- the endless “why”s of course, but also a reader, a scientist, a philosopher, a scholar. He has been steadily collecting data and reasoning skills the way I accumulate crocs, and somewhere along the line, he left me in the dust. I’m not slow or uneducated, but I now have to scramble to keep up with him, and I’m the one asking him about bits of general trivia, historical facts, or what that obscure word means. I’m both proud and humbled, by this gift that is my son.

Our conversation rambles off into the ebbing twilight, and I hear fireworks in the distance, the practice-run explosions for July 4th which is two days away. We’re enjoying the rarity of a peacefully quiet house to ourselves, but I itch to see the distant sparks. So I invite him out to the porch, and he follows behind me, his intellectual musing not breaking stride. We unfurl our bodies onto the navy canvas lounge chairs, and relax into the warm, settling darkness. The staccato explosives pierce the night, like baby thunder learning to speak, but though we squint and strain, we can’t make out any sparks beyond the trees circling the yard.

Suddenly a single flash startles me, and I jump a little and point, to realize it’s just a little firefly, igniting over the darkening grass. Once we shift our focus from the sky to the yard, we can still hear the crackers booming in the distance, but our gaze is mesmerized by the tiny alternating flashes, twinkling close by. It’s not as grand, not as public as a firework display, but it’s a soft, lovely, intimate show for just the two of us, each spark lasting only a second.

I realize that I often do this- I look far off into the distance, I want to trace the rumblings, to seek the riotous colors exploding far into the sky. I want to know my son’s trajectory, to identify his star. But while it’s close enough to hear, it’s still too far to see. And I almost miss the tiny, fleeting, beautiful flashes that glow momentarily, right here, right now, at this magical point between one day and the next.

My son excuses himself to pray, and I stay outside, lost in introspection, feeling pensive and moved. My throat tightens and my face scrunches up, the way I would never let it if anyone could see, and the tears come quickly. I rock in the chair, grasping in my hands both my knees and the final crumbs of his childhood. I indulge in some quiet sobbing; not of pain or melancholia, but just overcome- by the almost painful immensity of the love in my heart, racked by the relentless passage of time.

I hear a rustling in the tree near the swing set, and can just discern some silhouettes descending from the branches and scrambling down the trunk. Too big to be squirrels, I can tell from their eyes and tails they are a family of raccoons, a mama and her four cubs, scurrying through my yard, truly frolicking, blissfully ignorant of my audience. The mama suddenly notices me and stops dead in her tracks. The babies scurry up a tree, hanging on from the sides, like they’re posing for National Geographic. They’re ogling us, a silent standoff between two protective mamas, carefully assessing the danger. I am fascinated, as I stare into huge glowing eyes, but eventually I retreat a bit, after all this is their home too. They respect our privacy by day, and I choose to return the favor nocturnally, if not out of courtesy then from prudence.

I reenter the house to wash my face; I don’t want the men to see my tears, but my son emerges shortly. If he notices my blotchy cheeks, he doesn’t make mention. He will go on a plane this week, halfway around the world, this man that is my baby. I want to keep him safe and warm in his baby blue bedroom, to send him scurrying into the upstairs branches of my home, while I stand guard and protect him from any harm. But I know I can’t, and so I take him outside to show him the raccoons. He’s always loved animals and even at his age is still elated at the chance to meet our nocturnal neighbors. He comments on the details of their habits and physique (I don’t know these things), excitedly narrating their moves. But I think deep down he gets why I needed to share their family time with him.

I’m catching these precious fireflies in a jar of memories, and I need him there with me while I do. He’s deftly scaling the tree, but not to hide and wait for Mama; he’s steadily heading to the top, to spread his wings, and take flight. The fireworks are getting closer, and I know they will light up the sky, and I will be so proud, just as I am today. But I can’t help but notice that I am shrinking, and waving in the rearview mirror, just as I should.

Tomorrow again, I will while the evening with the fireflies, on these wonderful summer nights, and then retire so the raccoon cubs may explore freely. I will cherish this season, and strive to be fully present, because soon, maybe before I know it; there will be magnificent fireworks to admire from afar.

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