It’s not a party until someone counts the shingles

We had a nice little party. Invited some friends. Among our guests were the Freshies and the Frazzles.
The Freshies are a couple who are older than my wife and I by about a decade. The Frazzles are younger than us by about the same amount. We are all at different stages of the game. My wife and I enjoyed the glimpse that hanging with them gave us of days gone by—and days to come.
The Frazzles, as their fake name is meant to suggest, are still in the early stages of what social scientists call “family formation.” They have two children, ages four and two, and expect to have more. They are exhausted all the time. Nothing adds up and everything seems harder than it needs to be.
“Thank you so much for inviting us,” a sincere Mrs. Frazzle told me while bending over to reattach her two-year-old’s velcro sandal strap. “What a treat it is finally to be, you know, talking with adults.”
She laughed, but I knew she really meant it. As I topped up her red wine I remembered just how desperate it was in the early days. The daily routine of bottles, naps, snacks, strollers, diapers, bedtime stories and midnight pharmacy trips felt like it would never end. And then miraculously it did.
Our youngest is now in big-boy pants and (mostly) sleeping through the night. Our oldest squeezes in volunteer opportunities between texting her school friends and studying her Latin and biology. It feels like we’ve closed the book on that first chapter of family life—the one that leaves you feeling constantly frazzled.
Don’t get me wrong: The current chapter has its challenges. But they’re different. And we’re better-rested.
The Freshies, as their fake name implies, are extremely well-rested. Their skin glows and their clothes are without stain. They appear to get regular haircuts. Mr. Freshie took delight in circling the outside of our house, remarking on its construction.
“I like the shingle work on your roof,” he said, sipping a can of flavored sparkling water and shielding his eyes from the sun with his free hand. “Oh wow, you got three layers on there. That’s unusual. A lotta towns don’t allow that.”
I didn’t know what he was talking about but I envied his interest. Shingles and roofs must be the kinds of things that really grab your attention when you no longer have to do two hours’ worth of dish washing every night after dinner.
Two of the Freshies’ three children have flown the coop. Only their extremely mellow 16 year-old still lives at home. They have nearly run their race. They have kept the faith.
“Do you miss your older sisters now that you’re alone with your parents?” I asked young Ms. Freshie, the sole nesting daughter.
“Uh, no,” she said. “Not really.”
“You aren’t lonely?”
I turned to Mrs. Freshie, who was munching on a fruit plate.
“What about you?” I asked. “You must really miss having the older kids banging around the house.” She wrinkled her nose and wobbled her head in the signal for “yes and no.”
“Of course I miss them, but let’s just say we’ve adjusted to their absence,” she said. The Freshies rested at noticeable ease, as if all—or most—of their troubles were behind them.
Gosh, I nearly forgot to mention the Fratties—the four young singletons we invited to provide what my wife called “age balance.” The only thing weighing on them was where they would go for dinner. Yet they seemed charmed by us midlife people with our alien concerns. One day, perhaps, the Fratties will grow up, get married, and invite me to their own houses. Perhaps I will comment on their roof shingles.
After the party broke up my wife and I convened for the after-action report.
“What fun,” she said. “The little Frazzle kids are so sweet. I could eat them up.”
“Do you think we’ll ever be able to sit back and enjoy a party as thoroughly as the Freshies did?” I asked.
“Probably,” she said. “Though it’s hard to picture.”
I agreed. Then I got to work. All those dishes weren’t going to wash themselves.