My husband and I recently celebrated our 18th year of marriage at the lake with four teenage girls and our three children. Yes, you read this right. On the anniversary of the day we said “I do,” we packed three coolers full of frozen food, three bags of chips, snacks, soda, a piñata, swimsuits, sunscreen and oh yes, seven children into our SUV.

Giddyup buttercup.

Our daughter, Meggie, was turning 14, and she’d opted for a sleepover instead of our usual family party. An interesting mix of introvert and extrovert, Meg’s always chosen to commemorate her birth by a quiet day at the lake with her two siblings, two cousins and two sets of grandparents. We swim, we snack, we barbeque, we whack the ever-living crap out of a homemade piñata and call it a day.

This year she felt like doing something different.

“Do you think we can take my friends tubing at Grammie’s camp then maybe go home and play some games? I’d like to do facials and some girl stuff, but the only time they can all make it is on your anniversary… ”

“It’s fine, kiddo,” I told her. “It’s not about us anymore anyway.”

I meant it. With three children, four devoted grandparents, and one labradoodle, we’ve long stopped feting the sanctity of our union on one specific day. As corny as it sounds, when you’re surrounded by love, every day is special.

“Really Mom? You don’t mind?”

Ever the sweetheart, Meggie wanted to make sure she wasn’t ruining her parents plans to “Rediscover Portland.” In our family, it’s a standing joke that whenever my parents needed some couple time, they would go away for a weekend and tell my sister and I, “We rediscovered Portland!” when they returned. Now when my husband and I enjoy date nights, days, or gasp, two days away, we say the same thing to our children.

Watching the girls tube around the lake, hearing their screams, laughing at the way their bodies sprawl across floats like seals drying in the sun, I’m taken back to my girlhood.

Amy, Aly, Kimmy, and I swam all day and played cards all night. We tented out in Amy’s backyard playing “Truth-Dare-Double-Dare-Promise-to-Repeat” and had our whole lives ahead of us. Our whole lives to find Mr. Right, get married, raise babies and be the mothers our mothers were to us. How can 25 years feel like only yesterday?

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Today, Meg’s friends sit at the picnic table and play “Two-Truths-And-A-Lie” while eating pizza. Elsa says, “Oh, I think the second one’s the lie. She made that second one so detailed. That’s how ya know it’s the lie.”

“I dunno,” Meg tells her. “I think the third one’s the lie.”

They toss their wet hair back, scratch their bugbites, and compliment each other’s swimsuits. They plan on staying up late, consuming their weight in soda and candy, and having a glow-in-the-dark party as soon as it gets dark enough. They’ve got their whole lives ahead of them, and I’m so afraid to blink.

I want to walk out to the picnic table and tell them, “Eat all the candy. Drink all the soda. Stay up all night. Keep laughing. Tell all the silly stories you know. Be girls together for as long as you can because someday, someone will be asking you if it’s okay if they have a slumber party on your anniversary, and you’ll say ‘Of course it is,’ because seeing your child happy is the best present life can give you.”

But I don’t.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Veronica says. “The second one was the lie. I changed this one part, but then…”

And off they go into a new laugh, a new story, a new old memory they’ll think about one day when they’re old like me. Four faces sit around a kitchen table, and I hear Amy’s mother’s laugh echo through my mind.

“You’re such good girls,” she tells us.

I blink again and Meggie’s passing me the paper plates to throw away. “Thank you so much, Mumma. This is sooo awesome,” she says.

The ache is real and all consuming. I say the only thing I know how to and pray life will be long for her. “You’re such good girls, Meggie. Enjoy it.”

And she did.

Emily Morrison is a columnist for Bangor Metro.

This story was originally published in Bangor Metro’s September 2019 issue. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.