Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ice Cream Moments

There's nothing quite like that first really warm day of the year, the first time you shed those layers and let your skin soak up the sun. And there's nothing like celebrating it with a cool, creamy treat: an ice cream cone.

We had just such a day a few weeks back. It wasn't exactly hot, maybe 72 degrees, but after the cold, snowy winter and virtually non-existent spring we've endured in the Midwest, it was enough to send us scurrying through drawers, desperately seeking shorts and t-shirts, before frantically running to the local ice cream parlor.

My husband, son and I all dug immediately into our treats, but in between greedy bites I noticed our little girl staring at her baby-sized cone somewhat quizzically. It occurred to me then that while she's tasted ice cream off a spoon before, this was her first ever cone, and she wasn't quite sure what do to with it. A little coaxing from her big brother (at almost 4 years old, an ice cream cone veteran), a few tastes of the sweetness and she was on her way. Big, sticky, drippy smiles all around. It was another "Ice Cream Moment" in progress.

The term came to me last summer while watching my little boy eat ice cream with my dad. He was staying with us for a few days while my mom was out of town, and we were enjoying a carefree, delicious moment together. It was probably past his bedtime, it was certainly not the healthiest choice, but WOW did it taste good, and I don't just mean the Moose Tracks.

There's just something about eating ice cream, particularly off a cone, that brings out the kid in all of us. It's hard to worry about much, if anything, other than slurping up each delicious bite before the dripping sets in. It's one of those rare moments we suspend our usual routines, forget about our typical rules and simply enjoy. They are moments so sweet and yet so fleeting, so deliciously simple and rich.

There's a large portion of being a parent that involves imposing structure and rules, and that's not a bad thing. Kids tend to thrive on a predictable routine and certainly need to learn right from wrong. Not to mention that between work and all our other responsibilities, our "free" time seems to consist of a whole lot of errand running on a parent's part and time spent in shopping carts for the kids. It's the Ice Cream Moments that help balance it all out. Every once in a while when we're playing together with abandon, when we're out for a walk, when we're in the middle of a major tickle session, I think to myself "This is an ice cream moment. Eat it up."

I don't remember having too many of those moments with my own parents, who remain so serious, so hard to break out of their routines. As immigrants who came to this country with nothing but their educations, the majority of their energy went toward building a future, which didn't seem to leave much time for eating ice cream. Even today, it's difficult to get them to just relax, to just come over and BE with their grandchildren. To savor a second chance at an Ice Cream Moment. Perhaps that's why seeing my little boy share such a rare instance with my dad was all the sweeter.

My aunt passed away last week at the very young age of 54 after a horrific (but blessedly brief) battle with cancer. In her final weeks one of the few things she could stomach and actually requested to eat was a milkshake. Melted ice cream. Rationally, I know the creamy texture was all her broken body could handle, but in my heart I like to believe she wanted to share a few more Ice Cream Moments with us before she left.

So as summer finally begins to arrive my wish is that we all savor the Ice Cream Moments we've been given and strive to create more delicious memories. Take off your shoes and walk barefoot in the grass. Blow bubbles just because. Ditch your dinner routine and have a picnic in the park. Just don't let the chance to savor an Ice Cream Moment pass you by, because just like the real thing those times will melt away far before we're ready.

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