William graduated on Friday morning and hit the grad party circuit after a brief nap, while Rob and I joined other parents to set up a grad party for him and four friends he's been connected with since pre-K. A Colorado sun blazed in the royal blue sky and sweat dripped into my eyes as I tied balloons to each boy's shade tent. The tents covered posters filled with pictures illustrating each young man's journey from babyhood to present, and we each took a few moments to look at the photos between hauling tables and filling coolers.
Early guests arrived before we could take a photo of the boys together or even finish preparations, and they wandered down the row of tents peering at pictures and happily greeting neighbors, who came out of the woodwork on the first fine day of the first "level clear" weekend in Colorado. The party took on the form of a reunion for our Willow Creek community; as the teenagers clumped to confab or dispersed in groups to play spike ball and volleyball, the adults greeted friends from across the neighborhood that may well have been on the other side of the country during the pandemic.
"It's a carnival!" said one passerby.
"It's a post-pandemic reunion!" said a neighbor.
"It's going as fast as a wedding," we party-planners said as we rushed pass one another to get more food or beverages.
Everywhere I looked, vaccinated teens were laughing, joking, playing; an antidote to the pandemic, a toss of the head to social distancing. We took time out between conversations to marvel at their happiness and feel relief soaring like the red, white and blue helium balloons that our kids had achieved a sort of normalcy at the very end of their high school careers.
Friends shared endless stories of surviving the pandemic. Markedly absent was the usual glossing over of tough events, no one said "oh, the pandemic was fine" or "we did great!" Instead we discussed a new wine habit, a basement renovation, other inexplicable big purchases. One friend bought a potter's wheel for stress relief after watching "The Great Pottery Throw Down" with her son. "But Mom," he said in exasperation when he learned of the purchase, "We only watched three episodes! Three! We don't even know if we like pottery."
"But it was on sale, on Amazon," she told us and we nodded wisely, bonded by our myriad uses of Amazon to survive months trapped inside the house with our families.
When darkness fell shortly after 9:00, the teens melted away and adults lingered around the edges, helping us fumble through the party take-down, conducted by cell-phone flashlight and shout-outs as we wobbled across the grass. Before he left to go to another party, my son gave me a big hug and thanked me for the evening. "It was so great," he said, "Thank you so much for everything."
I didn't buy a pottery wheel, a new car, or a new basement in the past year, but we did buy over 200 ice cream cones, myriad brownies, whoopie pies and rice krispie treats, and endless bottles of seltzer for last Friday. Was it worth it, even if not on Amazon sale? How can you even ask? For an post-pandemic carnival, and for my son's heartfelt thank you, I wouldn't change a thing.