There goes the neighborhood — and childhood

Eunice’s Cafe closed a few years ago. Then, shortly after, the hardware store next to Eunice’s went out of business. Brooks Shoes shut its doors for good a few weeks ago, and the place where the kids used to get their haircuts, Snippety Crickets, closed recently too. I miss the shopkeepers and the salespeople who worked in these shops and who knew my kids since they were little.

I miss Eunice’s lentil soup and the tuna salad with the saltine crackers. I miss the beginning — when I first started eating at the café, eight months pregnant with a toddler in tow. Sometimes Sophie would bring her baby doll so we’d each have one of our own. Sophie was such a messy eater back then; most of her lunch ended up on the floor. Eunice, who used to greet us with a warm smile, was always so understanding.

I miss the end — our Shabbat lunch ritual, my husband and I with our two almost teenagers, the comfort of Eunice’s unfussy and unfancy respite, when our kids still wanted to be with us on Saturdays. I’d always take a seat at the table by the window, our favorite spot, and the kids would rush right up to the counter and order for all of us. They’d clear their empty plates and throw away any trash from the table.

I miss the hardware store. I miss that feeling the first time we sent the kids out on their own with a couple of dollars to get some batteries. Would they find their way all by themselves? (It was only three blocks.) Would the money, mashed deep in their pockets, fall out? Oh, what triumph when they finally made it home with the batteries and the change!

I miss Brooks Shoes even though I haven’t bought shoes there for the children in years. I miss Sophie’s pudgy little feet and unsteady legs. I miss Velcro enclosures instead of laces. I miss the record Brooks kept on the kids’ shoe history.

I miss Raiza, who gave Samuel his first haircut when he was 2 — and the week before his bar mitzvah. Raiza and I discussed the details of that haircut; not too close to Samuel’s actual bar mitzvah date because his hair would be too short and not too many weeks before because it would be too long. Raiza understood what was at stake here.

Change is hard. I don’t miss the diapers, the car seats, the strollers. I don’t miss the tantrums. But I do miss the sticky sweetness of toddlers, the discovery of something new, and the world in which they were mine completely. I miss Elmo.

Our kids are now 15 and 13. Contrary to everything I’ve heard and read about teenagers, I adore my children at this stage. We can talk about everything from politics, Israel and the Middle East to books, fashion and pop culture. Sometimes they give me advice, and it’s often sound and wise. They are fun to hang out with, and I’d rather be with them than just about anyone else. I think they are cool, smart and interesting young adults. They make me laugh — full belly laughs with tears rolling down my cheeks. But, just like Eunice’s, the hardware store, Brooks Shoes and Snippety Crickets, our kids will move on one day. They will leave the neighborhood too.

New stores will eventually pop up in place of the old ones. The trees we replanted in front of the house this year will one day grow tall and wide and reach our second-floor windows. Our lives, so busy and consumed with the day to day of raising children, will eventually become calmer and quieter. Soon there will be no children at home to nag about homework, no one to hustle out of the house, no driving and schlepping to tennis practice, soccer practice, flute lessons, Sunday school. No kids slamming their bedroom doors in frustration. No more spontaneous banana splits to help soften the blow of a bad grade, a losing game, a fight with a friend. Many friends I know whose children are grown, married and with kids of their own, report life is full, exciting and interesting. Some are busier and happier than ever.

But there’s so much that’s changing around me right now, and I’m not ready. Our daughter will begin 10th grade this year and our son, 8th. Each time September rolls around, I’m excited for them and all the possibilities a new year and a new grade brings. Yet I yearn for everything to stay as it is for just a little while longer. I guess we all have to grow up sometime. Even me.


Julie Levine

Julie Levine is a writer who lives in San Francisco.