Every morning, I sit at the kitchen table with an alarming level of gratitude for coffee, while gazing out at the two crab apple trees we planted when Col was just a wobbly ride-along.
These trees are the very definition of dynamic. In spring, they erupt into a pink riot of petaled fluff. Next, a prolific hatch of shiny green leaves fool me into believing in permanence. In fall, the trees flare with color. And now, in late November, only a smattering of drab leaves remain.
The children are like this, too, their own mysterious seasons spiraling them out into ever-new incarnations. Though next year’s changes may be folly to plan for, there will be parts of them blooming and withering before our widened eyes.
Col burrowed in bed with me this morning, and I blurted that I loved not only his 10-year-old self right this minute, but all the versions of boy he had ever been.
He became interested in these variants on the theme of himself, each now as unimaginable as a herd of fanciful extinct animals galloping across the page of a children’s book.
There was the 2-year-old Col who pilfered bottles of his grandma’s forbidden vitamins, tearing through the house shouting, “Uh oh! Uh oh!” much like the criminal who turns himself in pre-emptively, just for, you know, the fun of it.
Or, the 5-year-old Col who’d rise regularly at 5 a.m., gaze outside and announce wistfully, “That’s morning star. I’m in love with her.”
I like to think of all these renditions smoldering inside the internal compost pile of our selves. Into the pile goes the mischievous toddler, the poetic 5-year-old and the 7-year-old who regularly tucked a chicken inside his sweatshirt where she’d fall asleep. I may never glimpse each self so clearly again, and yet they all still exist in some essential, molecular way. Those iterations were simply the current translation of Col’s particular constellation of neurons, dreams, development, circumstances.
Remembering this helps when I’ve been deployed as support on the battleground of sibling disputes. Somewhere inside today’s Col is the blameless baby in a duck-covered onesie; 10 years later, he still needs reassurance, appreciation, understanding.
When I see pictures of my children’s younger selves, moon-faced and squat-limbed, I wonder: Did I know? Did I know how cute and easy it was then? How delightful it was to follow an awe-drunk toddler as he discovered the ecstatic occasion of a dog rolling in the grass? Did I know that my daughter wouldn’t always greet me like the president of my very own fan club? And what characteristics are now endangered, likely to be obsolete in a year?
Nostalgia is a funhouse mirror; it distorts and tampers with the evidence. Time ticks forward despite our devotion to the past, or our beliefs that any particular stage was best, easiest, most fun. Snow falls, then melts, all the way to the next flush of May blooms in the crab apple. There is no better way to appreciate your children, no matter the age, than to be here noticing and celebrating this particular curve in the ever-widening spiral.
Reach Rachel Turiel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.