The schools here have a standard dress code for band and choir concerts: black pants and a white dress shirt. That's the outfit my kids wear to awards ceremonies, too, and the outfits get passed down from kid to kid as the boys grow. The neighbor kids, Older Neighbor Boy and Philosophical Boy, are in our hand-me-down loop, and I've more than once made a frantic call to Neighbor Woman when I've discovered just before a school concert that With-a-Why's pants did not fit. Since a school event comes up every few months, I can usually be assured that each of my kids has a nice pair of black pants and a white shirt in the closet.
When Neighbor Guy's father died this week, I told my boys they should come to the wake. "Wear your concert clothes," I said. Then I went upstairs to find my good pair of black pants. My husband wears a suit to work so he didn't need to change.
As we walked to the car, I noticed that Shaggy Hair Boy was still wearing his sneakers. "Where are the dress shoes you wore to the concert?" I asked. "How come you aren't wearing them?"
"Boy in Black's got them on."
It turns out that Shaggy Hair's feet had caught up to Boy in Black's feet, and so they have been sharing a pair of shoes, since they never have concerts the same night. Neither kid had asked me for a new pair of shoes because they felt one pair was perfectly adequate. Luckily, Shaggy Hair's sneakers are black and looked at least appropriately somber for the occasion.
In the car, I reminded the kids about funeral etiquette. "When you go through the line, you can give Neighbor Guy and Neighbor Woman hugs," I said. "You can say something like, 'I was sorry to hear the news' or you can tell some kind of memory you have of him."
Shaggy Hair Boy looked at me in horror. "Out loud?" he asked, "We're supposed to say something out loud?"
"Of course, aloud," said my husband, "It's not into a microphone or anything. Just talk to Neighbor Family."
The boys behaved fine, of course, and their friends were glad to see them. It was a shock to see Older Neighbor Boy and Philosophical Boy in suits. How old they looked, how serious. I've known them since they were little kids, and all of a sudden, they are both taller than me.
"Their first time as pallbearers," Neighbor Woman said to me.
She and I looked over at our gang of boys, standing somberly in a circle about ten feet from the casket, all dressed up and behaving formal. Shaggy Hair Boy, his freckles faded and his hair pulled back into a neat ponytail, was talking seriously to Philosophical Boy, who stood with his hands in the pockets of his new suit. Only With-a-Why still looked like a little boy.
It's a strange thing. I mean, I am always clearing out closets, passing outgrown clothes from one child to another, and buying new sneakers for those fast-growing feet. But despite the constant shuffling of clothes, I somehow fool myself into thinking that my kids are staying the same, that things will always stay the same. But then a grandfather dies, we gather at a funeral parlor, and suddenly, I realize that our little boys have turned somehow, inexplicably, while I wasn't watching, into young men.