We celebrated my brother’s birthday this weekend. He and my sis-in-law bundled up Cubbie, Dodger and Rex and met us at Grandma and Grandpa’s place in the woods. It’s always an exciting and invigorating time for me when these three Energizer Bunnies come out. We laugh, we cry, we make up stories, we tell jokes, and we play.
This weekend was… different. It began when I grabbed for little Rex (who’s not quite 1 yet). Now you need to understand that Rex is one of the happiest, smiliest, giggly-est babies I have ever met in my life. All 3 nefoos are delights, but Rex has always had a cuddly “I’m-a-laugh-riot” personality. But it took all of 5 seconds in my arms on Friday for his big brown eyes to stare into mine and…
… a bit of hell broke loose.
Of course all babies and tots go through the making strange phase. There are greater and lesser degrees of this stage, but my poor heart just about stopped when my normally cuddly fellow was now pushing me away and reaching for Mama. It’s not his fault at all, obviously, and we eventually warmed up to each other and had some good play times. I think the reality hit me that, even though making strange is a stage, he’s on the cusp of leaving babyhood and entering a toddlers realm. I think I wanted some squishy, drooly baby hugs for a little longer before he stands up tall and takes off.
It was the same with Cubbie and Dodger. Sure I’d just seen them at Christmas, but when Dodger walked in I did a double take. That chubby “toddler-to-preschool” look had faded even since the holidays. I was staring at a young fellow ready to take on the world. Tasks he would normally need some help with were received with a “No Auntie! I can DO this!”
Yup. You sure can, Dodger.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t get to be a teeny bit wistful about.
Cubbie had brought his reading folder and instead of us reading to him all of the time, he was reading to us. He was pointing out words he saw on objects, spelling out words for us, and bursting with boyish pride over this major skill opening up worlds for him.
It’s a bittersweet time, these growing pains. I’ve come to love my little nefoos as silly, wonderful, wide-eyed babes; and yet I adore the stout, imaginative, persistent boys they are becoming. It’s a strange feeling to dwell in the in-between. Sometimes I think we live like this with the adults in our lives too. We’ve stopped growing physically, and we aren’t cutting teeth, being potty-trained, or learning to ride 2-wheelers without training wheels.
Yet we do grow.
Sometimes forwards, sometimes backwards, sometimes in scattered ways resembling more of a dust-storm than a growth pattern. But because our growth isn’t always obvious to the naked eye, we sometimes insist on keeping ourselves in static states. Who my friend was 5 years ago is the friend I have now.
It’s a dangerous trap, but when we refuse to believe adults grow and change we dehumanize ourselves and others. Especially when we’re talking of negativity, pain, and forgiveness, it can be gut-wrenching to start seeing grownups in new lights and stages of growth. To fall back on the “people don’t change” line only really exposes our unwillingness to see people in different ways.
When it comes to people we love, it takes courage to love the parent we knew to be “Mom” or “Dad”; but when we see parents grow into friends, or mentors or entrepreneurs, we can’t help but feel a teensy bit nostalgic. Yes they are still there, still present, still largely who they are.
And yet not.
And we love both.
And it hurts to learn how to do that. A good hurt. A stretching hurt.
I think I knew it was all going to be okay when I was playing out in the snow with Cubbie and Dodger, when Dodger slipped his mittened hand into mine and said: “I need to hold your hand, Auntie. I can’t walk in the deep snow by myself.”
“Why don’t we walk through this snow together?”
“I like that idea. I like walking in the snow with you, Auntie.”
Me too, Dodger. Me too.