I went back to my hometown for fireworks on July 4th to share a little bit of what my experience as a teenager was on this celebration of Independence, something my now 14 & 15 year-old boys constantly tell me I don’t give them enough of.
One of our family traditions has become eating dinner out someplace we’ve never eaten before in the tri-state area prior to viewing a fireworks celebration on the Hudson River watching from NY or NJ or, if we stay local, in Westchester at places like the Kensico Dam in Valhalla.
For this year’s holiday, we found a diner in Tarrytown open and tried some Greek dishes before traveling over the TZ Bridge during an awesome light celebration orchestrated by Mother Nature herself. Lightning danced across the sky and burst into some thunderous echoes. I wasn’t sure if the show was still on, but we continued into Pearl River, parking at Pearl River Lanes, a place I am all too familiar with as one of our haunts during my teenage years. The owners didn’t like my friends and I (& our boyfriends) hanging out there smooching most of the night. I honestly think I bowled there only once out of the hundreds of times I loitered.
As I walked amongst swarms of mostly teenagers who filled the streets – chatting away – I was transported back to the times my girlfriends and I were those young, vibrant girls ready to conquer the world and never imagining becoming our parents age or sharing stories of “when I was a kid, I used to…..” Yet, here I was now; alongside my younger self as if no time had passed with the knowledge that decades had gone by. I felt like joining in with the young girls giggling and wondering if any of the boys they liked were going to be at the fireworks. I tried to be inconspicuous as I eavesdropped, but when I turned to look at my girlfriend to add my thoughts, I instead saw my two sons stoically maneuvering alongside my husband through the crowds while engaging in their own teenage banter.
So, I was in one of those solo moments when no one but myself would truly understand the mixed emotions I felt. At first, I wondered why I felt all these intense feelings when I have been back to Pearl River on so many visits with my children throughout their baby through toddler and now into teenage years. And I realized that it was for a few reasons: I have always visited my parent’s home for celebrations, and when we went to any town events such as the St. Patrick’s Day parade, my children were younger so I was focused on making sure they were safe and enjoying themselves. Hence, it was truly a family experience. Additionally, I didn’t move to Pearl River until I was in 6th grade, so my memories are connected to those challenging, middle to high school years, which I associate with so much on a visceral level and with keen recognition.
By the time we reached Central Avenue, there were more people than I’ve ever seen at this event during my childhood, and there were so many teenagers. It truly looked like a picture perfect town to raise children with all the quaint shops and family fanfare. So, I understood why an associate who I befriended while teaching shared her long-held dream of moving to Pearl River to raise her family, which she is currently doing. Yes, she is of Irish descent and was wooed, in part, by the grand St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I must confess that when she shared this dream with me many years ago, I confided that I had spent enough time in Pearl River that, several years after college, I yearned to start a new life somewhere else. Still, there is a part of my heart and my soul that will always belong to PR.
As I watched the lights explode into the night sky, my 15-year-old looked over at me as if he sensed some of my ambivalence and asked, “Mom, is it weird for you to be here, the place where you grew-up?” “Yes, it is. So much is familiar, and yet unfamiliar, if that makes sense.” I told my kids how I used to go to what we called the “Center,” a youth recreational facility that we basically partied at or went to after we partied (21 years old of course lol). The times hanging out at Franklin School with friends and boyfriends. My kids laughed and actually shared how they were going to always visit where they grew-up with their kids and I smiled.
As the celebration continued, so many memories flooded my mind. Of course, they were the ones that were filled with explosive emotions of happy times with my best friends who I will always be grateful to Pearl River for meeting J. Celebrating in Washington for our Senior Trip, our proms and late night escapades are cemented in my mind, along with some of the sad times I experienced leaving my friends in the Bronx. My twin sister and I had a challenging time acclimating to PR with some of the “mean” girls who didn’t accept us at first because we are identical twins. Additionally, a few of the older girls were extremely mean to me when I dated an upperclassmen, so they would actually ask him on dates etc. while I was with him. It was very hurtful, but I knew even at that young age, that this was their issue, not mine. Later on, like anyone or anything that is “different,” we found ourselves and developed lasting friendships with those who cherished us as we cherished them.
I even fell in love for the first time living in PR and there’s a whirlwind of elation and heartache that I, like everyone else in this life, experienced as part of growing-up
Now, as my own children are of this age, I know they will be living all of these wondrous and challenging moments too, and it makes me both joyful and sad. Even though I’m a parent, I still feel like a kid at times, and now I have to let my children grow-up too.
I realize life is like the fireworks display, isn’t it? Where there once were bright, vivid colorful, fiery images mere seconds ago, there are now only remnants of specs of light trickling down, beyond our grasp; like time passing, they slip through our hands. But if we close our eyes, we can still see, feel and celebrate the beauty we experienced and set the painful moments sailing into the sky.