Looking back, thinking of your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and such is sort of like taking homemade picture shows that you load up and watch in your memory from time to time. The making of those memories in the first place is a sacred, special time. Some of those homemade picture show memories are very sweet and some of them are bitter sweet. That, my friends, you do not have a lot of control over.
I came across a couple of pictures of my toes recently. They were with a group of pictures that I had pulled together to send to my oldest niece while she was away at college and feeling a bit homesick. After I scanned them and sent them to her, I put them in a photo box and mostly forgot about them for a few years. That picture box was pulled from a back shelf the other day. You have to admit, they are somewhat comical. When I look at the picture of my toes, I think of the fun I had getting them into this condition; (that and how insanely white my feet are!) When I look at the picture of her hanging onto my toes, I think of the delight and enjoyment she had getting them into this condition! If you just take a quick glance at the picture, you might think that my poor feet had been in some awful accident where the toes had been victim to a massive trauma. No, those are not trauma toes. Upon closer inspection, you see toes that look like someone turned a bottle of nail polish up and poured it over them! That someone would be my then-four-year old niece, (Yes, this is the self-same “purple-dinosaur-loving child” from a previous post!) and she definitely did not just pour the polish over those toes. She deliberately dipped the brush into the bottle and, one-by-one, painstakingly painted each toe nail. (Well…the toe nails did get painted in the midst of all of that!) She had so much fun doing this and felt like she was really doing something special; and she was – even if it was a bit of a mess.
Me, I knew that the excess polish would wash off of my skin in the shower (with a little help from a nail brush, of course); and the remaining polish on the toes would most likely look just fine. The thing is, there is no way I would have traded that special time spent with her for a perfect, pristine pedicure. Yes, she and I could have loaded up and driven to the salon and had a girl’s day out getting professional pedicures. We could have; but then we both would have missed out. I would have missed out on seeing the joy that she experienced being allowed to do something that generally only “big girls” are allowed to do; and we both would have missed out on the bonding experience that these messy toes brought, and the cherished memory it created.
There was also making memories with my second niece that is four years younger. She and I have made memories in different ways. I did not get as much of her early childhood time to make as many of those goofy, silly, comical memories as I did with my older niece. (Although, we seem to be making those now!) She came to stay with us right after she’d turned five. She was a tough, tender little thing. (Yes, actually, tough and tender can sit side-by-side in the same box.) The favored possessions of this quiet, shy, serious five-year old were her Scooby-Doo tent and her Teddy. The colorful, puffy pop-up tent was located in the center of their house. She could easily be playing in the tent, then dash down the hall to her mother’s bedroom and then back to the TV room to catch her favorite cartoon (Scooby-Doo, of course.) Her imagination blossomed within the confines of that tent, with her trusted side-kick, Teddy. It was her safe place, it was the place where she allowed herself to be a child.
Because, outside of the tent, she – at barely five years old – assumed a very grown-up role. She did her very best to be a care-giver for her mother, who was in the final stages of breast cancer. I watched her take such tender care of her mother. She was like a little butterfly, flitting from place to place. She would go check on her mom, then float toward the TV room to see what was going on within the cartoon world. Then she and Teddy would retire for a bit to the Scooby-Doo tent. But, then it wasn’t long before she would stick her head out and make her way back down the hall to spend time with her mother again. She assumed responsibilities that were far, far above her five years, and she just did it naturally. When their Pastor from the church they attended stopped by to check on them, she and Teddy would entertain him inside the Scooby-Doo tent. Bless his heart; he was a good sport. He would crawl right in there with her; over tiny chairs, stuffed animals, toys and games, and minister to her there, on her own terms; in a place where she most likely felt was unchanging; because her world was changing, and she could sense that. One of the most touching things I have ever witnessed was at her mother’s celebration of life service. Their Pastor had taken two chairs and a blanket and built a tent right there at the foot of the altar. The two of them crawled right into that tent and that is where he spoke his message. The message, the service, was for her. He painted a picture for her of how our earthly bodies are just a temporary tent for our soul and how some day we will live in a bigger, better tent. She has really never missed a beat. She put her head up and marched onward. We never stopped talking about her mother and always try to keep her memory as fresh as possible in her mind. We tried to help her hold on to those memories.
When she first came to stay with us, she wanted to sleep with me. That was OK. It was security. The first morning that I went back to work when she was here, I got up and tried to quietly get my things out of the bedroom. I left her sleeping. I got in the shower and when I finished and pulled the shower curtain back, there she was, laying curled up with Teddy clutched to her side on the rug beside the bathtub, with the steam from the shower swirling all around them, sound asleep. I had not even heard her come in. That is a sweet memory that comes to my mind quite often when I think of that time in our lives.
Both girls are grown into young adulthood now. The older has just graduated from college and is contemplating her future in many areas. The younger is in her second year of college and currently has her head bent down working toward a medical degree. They are both special to me in so many ways. With no children of my own, they are my children. They, along with another niece and nephew, are my heart! We make memories in different ways. We are actually friends now. We hang out, we cook, we eat, we play games. I like that. I really like that! My older niece calls me most every morning just to chat about the day and see what is going on in my world. Although the younger is more of a “text-er;” we still talk most days, and when she is home during breaks, we see each other every day. They are both quick to rush to my side if they think I am in need. I would like to think that is how my own children would have been with me.
Although there are not a lot of messy toes (unless I am trying to do them myself,) or Scooby-Doo tents around any longer, there are still lots of adventures to be had. I am so looking forward to seeing where the roads they follow will lead them and how the decisions they make in life pan out. I am definitely looking forward to making many, many more memories with them and their friends, and their husbands and their children….and so on and so on and Scooby-Dooby-Dooby!
Some people brought their small children to Jesus so he could touch them. But his followers told the people to stop bringing their children to him. When Jesus saw this, he was displeased. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me. Don’t stop them. The kingdom of God belongs to people who are like these little children. I tell you the truth. You must accept the kingdom of God as a little child accepts things, or you will never enter it.” Then Jesus took the children in his arms. He put his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16 ICB)