In the early spring, they come out, dressed in layers and mittens and gradually casting off clothing throughout the day as they slosh through the waterlogged grass. They dig in the muddy sandbox and poke through the melting piles of slush, discovering toys long hidden under the snow, mixing up magic potions of leaves and early flower buds, and hours later, coming inside with sunburned cheeks, sad because it's starting to snow.
A month later, the flowers start to appear, tulips and crocus and daffodils, and they can’t resist picking them, the first flowers they’ve seen in the yard in months, picking them and bringing them to their mothers. “For you, mom,” they say benevolently, and they wait for a hug and a kiss from a mother who is delighted by the gift (despite her chagrin over the rapidly dwindling supply of unpicked flowers). They play all day long on Saturday, packs of children, pretending to be the Boxcar children or magical fairies, or pirates ("Mom, tell her I don't have to walk the plank!"). They help in the yard, where we plant lavender and penstemon and daisies, and they look at me skeptically as we plant vegetables, not quite sure if they should believe me when I tell them this little pebble of a seed will one day be a cornstalk.
On Saturday, there is soccer, every field and park in town full to the brim with children and their families, children who aren't quite sure if they are running toward the right goal, who lose concentration when they get the ball as they glance up to make sure their parents are watching. On Sunday after church, families are out together, on walks and bike rides around the neighborhood, parents stopping every few feet to talk to people they’ve barely seen all winter as the children urge them forward ("Come ON Dad").
In summer, mothers send their children into the backyard ("Go on, go out and play") and the kids find each other, congregating and planning the morning's mischief as mothers sneak off to check their email, to make a phone call, to read a newspaper, to do the dishes. They play all morning, running through sprinklers and wading pools, discovering neighborhood pets, building dams in the stream at the park, fading over to the shade of porch swings by noon, and disappearing into the house during the hottest part of the day.
They creep back out again in the late afternoon, riding bikes and scooters and trying out skates, knocking on doors to remind their friends that it's time to come outside again. They find a zucchini in the garden and then an onion or maybe a green bean, and vegetables have never been so exciting before. In the evening it’s beautiful out, and we turn on the flood lights, not yet ready for the kids to come in, not quite ready to go in ourselves. The adults congregate in little clumps, talking and gossiping and laughing while the kids race around, squeezing in a few more minutes, a few more minutes ("Hurry before we have to go inside"). I look around at my friends, at my family and stand there thinking, I will always remember this.
In late autumn we pick pumpkins and put the garden to bed and get things ready for winter. We savor the last few warm days before winter comes and spend more time than usual outside, soaking it up, letting them play, letting them enjoy each other’s company. Little arrangements appear on front porches, hay bales and pumpkins and autumn flowers and baskets of apples. We visit pumpkin patches and go on hay rides and run through corn mazes. We plan costumes and on Halloween night, we go around the block and down the street, collecting candy at every door, (except the scary ones with haunted houses, because my kids aren’t quite that brave, at least not quite yet). We hand out eight bags of candy and have to shut off the lights at eight-thirty, because my husband is NOT going back to the store.
The first snow falls, and we are happy, because we made it to November with no snow, and maybe it will be a mild winter, after all (high hopes, quickly dashed). Cabin fever has not yet struck, so we enjoy looking out the window at the huge snowflakes as they come falling softly down, and we drink hot chocolate and put on Christmas music, even though it’s really far too early. We drag out snow boots and mittens and snow pants and a few minutes later, the thin layer of snow in the yard has been obliterated by overly enthusiastic children, who are ready, once again, to make snow angels.
And in Las Vegas, there won't be this, not all of this, but there will be shorts in February and swimming in October and eggs to fry on a piece of tinfoil on the sidewalk in August and it will be different, but it will still be fine - it will be just fine (at least this is what I remind myself when I'm feeling maudlin). Because as it turns out, forts work just as well when you make them with cardboard boxes, popsicles taste even better when it's 114 out, and you can still make perfectly good snow angels in a sandbox.
Life will still be sweet, because there is always sweetness to be found when you look for it, but I will always remember this part of our lives, when we lived for a time in a Norman Rockwell painting.