Published Friday, June 22, 2012

Letting go of lightning bugs

First as a child and later as a mom, nothing says summertime to me more than the thrill of spotting the first lightning bug.

Growing up, there was no better sport, and, yes, being the competitive children that we were, my sister and I certainly turned it into one. We’d compete against the neighbor kids to see who could catch the most. I’m sure if we’d pooled our resources, we would have won.

As it was, winning came second to the fun of chasing them down and catching them, careful not to smash them as we slid them into the jar and quickly closed its metal top with a few holes poked through with a fork to allow for air. It was a tradition I was delighted to pass along to my children.

They spent many a summer night catching and studying the pretty fireflies, asking impossible questions about how and why they lit up, while their father and I lounged in rocking chairs on the front porch. Ah, the endless days of summer ...

I’m not sure how so many of those days went by, but somehow they did. In the fall, my son will start middle school, and my daughter will start high school. My oldest child celebrated her birthday June 21, the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. It was a long day in the delivery room, but the moments in between passed by as quickly as a blink of a lightning bug. She’s a grown woman now, and I’ve long since quit telling her age.

I went walking with my younger children this week. I was admiring the flashing bugs all around us when, suddenly, one passed right in front of us. My son and daughter totally ignored it. I quickly stuck out my hand and scooped it into my fist.

“How can you not catch a lightning bug that flies right in front of you?” I asked my son in amazement.

He shrugged.

“Don’t you want to put them in a jar?”

“And kill them?” he asked.

“No, see how many it takes to light up your room like you used to do. We can let them go in the morning,” I said. “They don’t live very long anyway.”

“All the more reason to let them enjoy their freedom,” he said.

“Are you too grown up for lightning bugs?” I asked, feeling shock.

When did that happen? I thought to myself.

I racked my brain to remember the last time they caught one, the last time they got excited over the smell of honeysuckle, the last time they asked to go barefoot to the creek, the last time they got excited about a turtle crossing the road.

And, I couldn’t remember.

Somehow, summer by summer, they had matured and grown.

They were young men and women now and were about to embark on new adventure in life. It was time to put away their childish things.

I held onto that lightning bug for a good long while before I finally set him free. Then the three of us walked home, hand in hand, with the twinkle from him and his friends leading the way.

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