Here in my New Jersey town, the cicadas are hatching. Every 17 years, thousands of these strange-looking, googly-eyed insect creatures dig themselves out of the ground and transform into even stranger looking winged bugs that find their way to the tops of trees to mate, reproduce and die. They make a strange noise magnified to a magnificent volume by their sheer numbers, which makes their presence hard to ignore. This is a fascinating and equally disgusting wonder of nature, and it is unforgettable. (Watch my amateur video.)
I remember the first time I experienced the hatch, 17 years ago, just a few weeks after we bought our first house — the one we still live in today. I had never seen anything like it, ever, and I certainly did not forget it (although I think my imagination distorted the grotesqueness of the entire thing).
Back then, I wondered what shape my life would take before I would see these bugs again. What milestones would mark my next 17 years? It got me thinking about milestones in general, and the things we do — and don’t — remember.
This is a big year of milestones in my family. Both of my children had BIG birthdays this year. One turned 13 — yikes, a teenager! My youngest celebrated his 10th birthday — double digits! Of course, 13 and 10 are really just numbers, and each year is as significant as the next in terms of maturity and growth, but still we mark these birthdays as extra special because, well, because.
My husband and I celebrated our own “milestone” this year, our 20-year wedding anniversary. We decided to mark the occasion with a short getaway, itself a “milestone,” and because that’s what people do. I’m glad we did it, but still wondering why we needed a special anniversary to finally get our act together.
My newly-turned teenage son racked up a few other major milestones. He celebrated his confirmation this year, a religious milestone in our Catholic faith. He broke a pool swim record. Soon he will be celebrating his “graduation” from eighth grade, his last year in middle school — a “milestone” marked by parties, trips and award ceremonies. Teenagers already think the world revolves around them, so the extra attention isn’t doing me any favors.
My 10-year-old had his share of milestones too — his first hockey goal, first year in scouts and first lacrosse game. Soon, he will “graduate” from fourth grade, the last year before heading off to the middle school. (That’s fifth grade people, a truly BIG deal!) Should the fourth graders not understand the significance of this lifetime achievement, we parents have planned many events and keepsakes to mark this important life event. My son is most excited about one of those — the last day of school before summer break. Maybe, after all the pomp and circumstance is over, he’ll understand what all the fuss was about.
As I think back to my own experiences, I remember very little of these same “milestones.” I don’t remember fourth grade or very much from eighth grade. I recall the dress I wore at my confirmation, but probably because of the picture my mother took of me in it. Clearly, at the time, the dress was more important to me than the event itself. I have only foggy memories of these years and little in the way of “milestones” to recall with pride. Of course, back then, parents didn’t take that many pictures or videos to make sure we remembered every special detail. Note to moms and dads: Take lots of videos and don’t forget to put all those pictures in albums!
I suspect the reason we parents insist on making such a big ruckus about these “milestones” is the hope that our children won’t forget how special we think they are long after the pictures from these events are stored on our computer hard drives. Maybe we are like the cicadas, making a lot of noise and putting on a big show for our little, but significant life events.
Will my kids remember anything from this year? I’m not sure, but I’m willing to bet they won’t forget the cicadas.