This has been the summer of the movie. The girls saw the requisite new releases, Over the Hedge and Cars. We also saw lots of kid film festival reruns–Wallace and Gromit, March of the Penguins, Shrek, Nanny McPhee, Jimmy Neutron, and many more. We took in at least one movie a week, sometimes two. Slipping out of the triple digit heat and into the air conditioned world of cinema has been our favorite retreat now that both girls are old enough to sit still.

This week definitely got off schedule. Our pick for Tuesday, Curious George, got filled up and we were sent to Cheaper by the Dozen 2. Five minutes from the end, the screen filled with an image of melting celluloid and the movie stopped. We didn’t get to see the rest.

Today we headed out early to ensure a seat. Realizing the overwhelming popularity of the inquisitive monkey, Regal Westgate added a second screen. We found a seat easily and the girls laughed more than at any movie this summer. The little jungle ape was infectiously cute. As the credits came up, Elizabeth, the younger, slapped her hands against the red armrest and said, “Well that’s it. Summer’s last movie!” She hopped up and we followed her through the crowd out into the hall.

Cheaper by the Dozen 2 had not let out yet. “Should we sneak in and see the end?” I asked Emily. She nodded. We slipped into the theater and stood by the wall. The scenes splashing across the screen were only seconds before the point it had cut off on Tuesday.

Now, I’ll admit, I’m a sap. I don’t think we’ve watched a summer movie yet that didn’t make me cry. But the end to Cheaper 2–Good Lord. I’m bawling. Steve Martin gets his first grandchild, the big speech about perfect parents not exisiting, but many greats ones. The last summer at Lake Winetka and the first baby. It’s too much.

We walk out of the cold and into the hot sun. Both girls take a hand as we cross the busy parking lot, leaving behind the smell of popcorn for the hazy heat of asphalt crisscrossed with fading yellow stripes. I realize that so many of their firsts are behind them–first baths, first tooth, first steps, first day of school. We have more to go, surely, but at what point does the seesaw tip the other way, when you have more lasts than firsts? When does a parent look at a child and realize–they’ve grown up. They’re leaving. They’re leading their own lives.

We got to the car and Emily kept my hand even though little Elizabeth dropped hers and leaned against the car with an exhausted sigh. “Mama?” Emily said. “Didn’t we get just a little more summer movie? We thought we were done but we got just a little bit more.”

I held her still, hoping to imprint the way such a small hand feels in my bigger, not quite yet old one. “That’s right, Emily. We did.”

Emily whistled in her self conscious way, knowing she’d made some symbolic point–bonus for proving Elizabeth wrong. How often do we get one last little taste of something that is ending? It’s like the son coming back out the airport tunnel for one more quick hug. Or the unexpected chance to stop back by your grandparents’ house before it is sold, months after they leave it empty.

A movie isn’t a death. A snippet of a story isn’t the return of lost time. But sometimes little things remind you of big ones–that everything about our lives is finite, mommies only get so long to hold their children in their lap, and that popcorn summers all too quickly give way to school days, education, maturity, and the empty nest.

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