I pulled a puzzle out of our Christmas box this year, and I started piecing it together lately.  Hint:  those puzzles that the photo places make are a really cool idea.  But they have a uniform piece, and if you have a photo with….say….a lot of white legs, or green leaves, or rocky ground, you can mix up the pieces.  I mean, pieces actually fit where they don’t belong–as in knees on the wrong legs, and toes on the wrong feet.

Another thing though, is putting pieces together of these kids I knew so well…..I could recognize one crinkled eye, or the twisted way the kid held his foot, and I loved that part.  It was such a wash of nostalgia.  I don’t know if you can recognize Daniel on the far left end of the hammock, but he is holding up an apple speared with a knife.  Only I cropped the knife out, because—our kid was only 8 and…what could I have been thinking?  He never actually speared anyone by accident, and he was so proud of being the Sam Gribley woodsman, that…..he had a pocket knife at age eight and I didn’t want it recorded.

I remember …..3 moms, 6 kids, 2 for each mom—made a perfect 9p Seagull Lake  trip.  We promoted independence, which meant we hovered from afar.  I was casually swimming with  my hand practically at the scruff of one  particular swimmer’s neck -one who had no business swimming to the rock, but was too cool to be the only one in the lifejacket.  Because that is what we moms do, for anybody’s kid  There was a kids’ tent and a mom tent, but….when it got dark, I remember one little guy padding over to the moms’ tent with oversized feet in footy pajamas, and a little while later one Shelby wanted me to sleep out under the stars with her.  So I took my pillow and went of course.  We were making memories.

But the thing is, as nostalgic as I always am (honestly, I never missed a single chance…I even felt waves of nostalgia every time my kids switched to bigger diaper sizes. )    I believe all this sappy savoring that I do has helped me treasure every age.  Because I miss these kids in this puzzle.  A whole lot.  But not enough that I would  give up the kids I have today for the kids I had in that puzzle.

It’s hard to explain how much I like the kids I have now.  Back then, I was responsible for the field trips.  Now I’m responsible for the restful home.   I used to plan and hope that they would like adventures, that they would spend their time in the woods rather than in the computer room.   I used to wonder if they would learn to pitch in–be good team players.  Now I watch them lead their teams.  If I’m home, I get to meet their friends.  I get to visit colleges with Shelby…and anticipate how much she will like it there.

These days,  I get up before they get up–rather than the other way around.  I’ve traded those early mornings looking for a spare moment to myself for —struggling to keep my eyes open late enough to  hang around while Shelby completes an art assignment, or being available in case Daniel wants to play the riff on the guitar.   I don’t have to stay home to take care of them anymore, but I want to stay home just in case—.  Ironically you’d think,after all these years, I’d be something of an expert at it, but still I screw up.  I still fight with Shelby about her sleep habits.  I guess I don’t have to head/knee lock Daniel to get him to brush his teeth, but we do have some headlocks about other things….some too trivial to even mention.

Some parents with younger kids thank me for taking the carpool turns…when I’m thinking…are you kidding me?  I have about 2 months left in this stage in my life, and it’s the only time I get to listen to 15 year old boys banter.  I’ll take every chance.

And I still get to see the other kids once in awhile.  Guess what?  They all turned out to be pretty good campers, so far.  If you look closely at this video—as they planned and practiced their own Grand Marais parade flash dance, you’ll recognize them amid the crowd.

You know, I expected to feel more loss in all of this.  I really liked being a mom to those little kids, I liked planning birthday parties, reading the books aloud, taking them camping.  Sometimes they ask me to help them figure out their independent camping trips, once and awhile they let me plan the scavenger hunts, but I’m in the background.  They choreograph their own dances now.   Maybe later in life there will be a time when the growing up will make me sad, but for the moment now….it feels just about right.