A few nights ago, I wrote a really long post about going home. It was a self-indulgent meditation about the way returning to my childhood home is a little like entering a time warp. I spent far too many paragraphs describing the landscape of my home city and my house itself and the way they’ve both changed and stayed the same, and the way I’ve both changed and stayed the same.
But that story is an old story, and it is not a unique story or a story much worth telling. It’s probably your story, too, if you ever left home and then returned, years later, as an adult with your own life only to find that your own life gets a little dim and shadowy when you walk into your childhood house and see the same old photographs on the walls and the same old stained grout in the bathtub and the same old books on the shelves.
Eventually, after all those long-winded paragraphs, I meandered my way to the real point of my story, which is probably not a terribly unique story either, but it’s a new one for me. It’s a love story, and the object of my affection is tiny and soft and irrefutably the sweetest little sprout I’ve ever seen. I met him for the first time on my visit home.
That’s Theodore, or Theo, or – as I call him – Teddy. He’s my nephew.
During this visit home, I realized that I don’t like the word nephew. It is not an elegant word, either in speech or in writing. But it is what he is.
During this visit, my nephew took a little piece of my heart and grabbed it real tight and didn’t let go.
During this visit, I spent far too much (or was it far too little?) time staring down at his tiny face, at his rounded nose and his soft, pliant ears and his pale, pale eyelashes, almost invisible unless you look really closely. I called his every gesture the cutest thing ever! because it so totally was.
He crumples up his face while he sleeps sometimes, his brow furrowing and his lips pursing and his nose twitching, and it is adorable and absurd because what on earth could trouble his dreams? We joked that he was having a nightmare about curdled breastmilk, but that couldn’t be it because he literally has no concept of such a thing. Sometimes he squeaks in his sleep, or moans a bit, and it really is the cutest thing ever! and there’s no way you’d disagree if you saw it.
During this visit, I greedily stole time holding and touching and generally soaking up the deliciousness that is my nephew. Even when he peed on me (twice!), I didn’t mind at all, and I secretly felt a little happy about it, like he was marking me as his own. If it were up to me, I’d have held him every hour of the day, and soothed him every time he cried in the night, and even changed every one of his poopie diapers. But it was not up to me, and I know that this love I feel for him is probably not even a teeny-tiny infinitesimal fraction of the love that his parents feel for him. So during this visit, my “greedy” stealing of time was really just not-so-greedily accepting him when his mama or daddy offered him to me, adding an “Are you sure?” so they knew it was okay if they really wanted to keep holding him and were only offering out of courtesy.
And during this visit, while lying in the daybed that is not my bed in the room that is no longer my bedroom, failing to fall asleep because of the change to Daylight Savings and the fact that I was still kinda-sorta operating in Central Time (a flimsy half-truth, but a good excuse for sleeplessness), I had a kinda-sorta epiphany.
I thought about babies, and I thought about the totally pure, unfiltered, unqualified, unconditional love they receive from nearly everyone who sees them. It is the most joyful, unadulterated love I can imagine. They receive it simply because they are tiny and adorable and so wholly innocent and helpless. I know that, pragmatically, they receive it as a matter of necessity; if babies weren’t so cute we wouldn’t be so inclined to help them and they might not – would not – survive. So, sure, maybe babies are toying with us and tricking us into giving them our love, but even if that’s true I don’t care. I’m happy to give it.
I also started thinking about how babies don’t – can’t – appreciate all the love that gets heaped on them. I’m sure they feel it and know that they are cared for and safe, but they can’t consciously acknowledge or appreciate it. And then I started thinking that the people who could use a helping of unconditional love and who could consciously acknowledge and appreciate it are the adults, the jaded, world-weary people with worries and problems and mortgages. And it’s totally not fair that we don’t get any of that, right?!
And then I realized, Oh. We do get it, if we’re willing to accept it. Parents give their children that unconditional love even when those children are forty-three with paunches and tempers and mortgages, because parents still see the tiny, helpless, innocent infants their not-so-children once were. And they always will.
And during this visit, I decided that maybe I understand a little more about parenthood. Because, even though I am not a parent, I think that when Teddy is fourteen and decides that all the adults in his family are so stupid! and don’t understand anything! and he is being an undeniable brat, I will look at him and I will still see the teeny-tiny newborn who stared up at me, helpless, with chapped lips and flailing fists and made my heart melt when his lips curled into a little smirking smile. And I will love him just like I did then, and just like I do now. No matter what.