One night late in the spring of 2009 I received a phone call from my brother. This in itself was unusual as he is not prone to social calls or idle chitchat. After a brief greeting he said, “If all goes well you’ll be an aunt around the end of the year.” I’m sure I performed the TV sitcom gesture of holding the phone away from my ear and looking at it in stunned disbelief. He then proceeded to assure me, several times, that no, he was not kidding.
Now I understand that this happens every day all over the world, but it does not happen in my family. My mom had long ago resigned herself to producing pictures of my cats to show off as her “grandchildren.” I had been married for over eleven years, but my husband and I had always known we didn’t want any children. My brother is four years older than me, and we had assumed that he and his wife had reached the same conclusion. Surprise!
As I hung up the phone I felt exhilarated and overwhelmed. I was going to be an aunt! And just like that I fell instantly, totally, and eternally in love. He (I didn’t know that he was, in fact, a he at that point) grabbed hold of my heart that night in a way that I never would have imagined possible, and he has not let go since. My nephew, Wes, finally arrived on December 29, 2009. I’m as biased as the next aunt, mom, dad, sister, etc. when I say that he came out beautiful and perfect.
Fast forward, and Wes is now a few months shy of his fifth birthday. What joy and inspiration he has brought to my life! As adults we instinctively take on the roles of teacher, mentor, protector, and caregiver. What I have discovered over the past few years is that at times these roles are indeed reversed. Through spending time with my nephew and watching him grow I’ve come to see that in some ways children are our teachers, too. There are things that they do naturally without our guidance or assistance. As someone with only limited previous interaction with kids this has been a delightful discovery for me. These inherent behaviors are the basic building blocks that we so often toss aside as we “grow up”. I’m learning from Wes, albeit slowly at times, to rediscover some of these basics. While they may seem simplistic in nature they are behaviors that I have suppressed and neglected over the years. Whether we are willing to admit to it or not, we tend to conform to expected structure and order in our lives. We go to school, work, raise children (or cats), buy homes and cars, pay bills, and plan for retirement. Sure, some of us find the time to take vacations, play sports, and participate in hobbies that we enjoy. But do we allow ourselves the freedom that we had as children? Do we let our guard down and let ourselves be real in our purest form? With the help of my nephew I am working on it. I am relearning a few of the essential behaviors of childhood, and it feels great!
1. Get Mad, Get Over It, Get Glad- In short, be emotional. I’m not suggesting that you throw an arms-and-legs-flailing, kicking, and screaming temper tantrum during the next staff meeting or holiday family dinner (much as the urge may strike us all). What I’m saying is that we should not bottle up our emotions. Kids don’t hesitate to let you know when they are unhappy with you, but they are also quick to forgive and forget. As adults we need to express ourselves and deal with our feelings as they occur rather than stewing on them to the point of contention. We also need to learn to accept an apology as easily as a child does, and to move on once it is given.
2. The GO! Theory (or Cannonballs for All)- Be bold, be brave, and have fun. When we grow up we learn to think about things before we act. We learn what is deemed to be acceptable and appropriate behavior. In the process we sometimes forget to have fun. We tend to “think” our way out of things rather than into them. This can be wise, of course, but it can also be a bit of a downer. I recall watching Wes as a toddler, how he approached each new adventure with equal parts trepidation and anticipation. He employed what I refer to as the “Go” method, whereby he would say, “1…2…3…Go!” and then go he would- down the slide, through the plastic play tunnels, jumping into a pile of freshly raked leaves or wherever he was bound. This past summer I witnessed the “Go” theory in action as he enjoyed playing in the pool and showing off his new cannonballing skills. It’s a magical thing to watch, almost as if the countdown and the “Go!” give him the courage to try anything. When was the last time you did a cannonball? Or jumped into a pile of leaves? We should approach each day as if it is a playground that we get to explore rather than a minefield we must navigate. We need to remember the simple pleasures of…well, simple pleasures.
3. Love Wide Open- Give love freely and accept it in return. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, like the pure love of a child. I remember going to visit Wes when he was about a year and a half old. Each morning as I emerged from the guest bedroom he would spot me, his whole face would light up in a huge grin, and he would run into my arms for a hug. I know it won’t last forever, and as he gets older and turns into a rough and tumble boy those hugs will be few and far between, so I soak them up for all they are worth now. I can’t adequately describe how it feels when he says, “I love you.” You see, kids don’t know about personal space, and they don’t care about carefully crafted boundaries. This is by far the hardest lesson for me to relearn, that of letting others in. Thanks to my nephew I’m working on knocking down the barriers and inviting people into my once restricted air space. It’s been a surprising and rewarding experience. I encourage you all to love wide open.
To my nephew I say, “Thank you, Wes, for teaching Aunt Kay Kay to embrace her inner child. I can’t wait to spend more time learning and loving with you.” To you, my friends, I say, “Teach your children well, and allow them to teach you well.” Cheers! Karen