I'm standing in line at a craft store waiting to pay for a posterboard.
The store's a glittery explosion of pinks and reds, hearts and balloons, stickers and lip-shaped decals. I grab my one item, hoof it to the checkout, and breathe in slowly but deliberately, trying not to sip too much commercialized air.
The woman in front of me turns to her young daughter.
Oh! she says, remembering. Don't you need Valentines for your class this week?
Her daughter widens her eyes and nods. Yeah, I do.
The mom smiles one of those exasperated smiles we mothers know too well. The one that means of course you do and how did we not discuss this earlier and were you ever going to tell me?
She's not mad, not really, but as the two of them step out of line to hunt down pink paper, kiss me stickers, and whatever else they might need, I'm feeling pretty smug that I'm now one slot closer to the checkout. I'm years past folding Valentines for my kids' classmates.
Over the last few weeks, I've noticed something.
As I wait in the curbside line to pick up my high school son, every fifth car or so follows the same routine: a student approaches a car, tosses a backpack in the trunk, then walks to the driver's side. The parent gets out, the student slips behind the wheel, the parent walks round to the passenger door. It's a quick, wordless encounter, a change of places both literal and symbolic for these permit-holding students and their parents. The student pulls the car out and drives them both home.
I startle as my older son opens the door.
He tosses his backpack in, then slips in the passenger side.
I drive us both home.
For now, for a few months longer.
Until he too gets his permit and takes my place behind the wheel.
There comes a time when your parental role shifts. It happens without fanfare, without warning; as the to-dos lessen, the spaces between them lengthen.
When you no longer need stickers, or lip-shaped decals, or pastel hearts with text me or sweet talk or all mine for everyone in class.
When time itself -- that fickle maiden, that crafty, slippery, unstoppable force -- will be all yours and yours alone.
When your child gets in your seat and you in his, and as he drives you both home, your heart asks simply:
So soon? But how?
Recipe for Chocolate Disks with Toasted Almonds, Candied Fennel, and Barberries
I'm all for chocolate treats on Valentine's day, the easier the better. Chocolate pancakes, chocolate waffles, and this one-bowl chocolate sour cream cake are perennial favorites. This year's offering, though, is the unfussiest of all. Slap together these fruit-and-nut topped disks in minutes, then let them harden and set.
Barberries are wonderfully tart, currant-sized fruits available in Middle Eastern markets. Substitute minced cranberries, raisins, or whatever dried fruit you can get your paws on. And I used candied fennel here (I love it), but you can just use sprinkles, if you like.
Makes 8 disks
4 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup toasted almonds
2 teaspoons candied fennel seeds
1-1/2 tablespoons barberries
Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.
Gently melt the chocolate in a double boiler until smooth, stirring a few times as it melts. Spoon it into 8 equal rounds on the prepared sheet. Sprinkle with the nuts, candied fennel, and fruit. Set aside to harden at room temperature for about 2 hours.