Please enjoy a serving as cheese as I announce this post’s theme song: Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love of All. Last week I was summoned twice by four of my smallest friends, and it was fabulous. It started with this text message from a similarly aged (to me) friend: “[My daughter] and I were talking about you tonight. You are not only my friend, but also her friend and [her brother’s]. And she wants you at our house. LOL.” After replying to add that I am also her daddy’s friend, I asked for clarification on whether my presence was required at that very moment or in general always. Two-and-a-half-year-olds being big on instant gratification, the answer was of course now. However, it being the afternoon before Thanksgiving and my not being completely insane, I did not offer to join 50,000 of my closest friends on the Capital Beltway and drive over right then, but instead to stop by on my way out of town Thanksgiving morning for drive-by hugs. About ten minutes later, her four-year-old brother called me and asked, “Auntie Mer Mer, when are you going to come in the morning?” I hate to disappoint my wee friends, so I promised to call in the morning when I was leaving with an estimated time of arrival. I was even honored to be chosen over Mommy and Daddy to help the two-and-a-half-year-old go to the bathroom. #Winning What a wonderful way to start a holiday celebration.
While in the boro, I received a text message from another similarly aged friend: “The girls asked if you would babysit Saturday night.” We had such fun hanging out recently when their mom and dad were enjoying themselves at a wedding reception that a repeat performance was requested. Nevermind that they live 90 minutes away and surely other people in a closer proximity were available. Who am I to deny a four- and six-year-old? These young friends were very concerned about my recent pneumonia hospitalization because earlier in the year their grandfather passed away while in the hospital. Their mom assured them that I was on track for a full recovery, and the four-year-old drew me a beautiful get well soon picture that now graces my refrigerator. Ultimately the girls’ parents ended up joining our party, and we had a ball. The girls were sad that I was not spending the night like I had other times, but Polly and her soft ears were conveniently there to blunt their disappointment. Their mom also promised that they would come down to visit Polly and me at our place in the new year, and we would all bake cookies together. What a fabulous way to wind down a holiday celebration.
I love spending time with my little buddies. I’ve known since I was 17 that I couldn’t have kids, but that never bothered me, and for the longest time, I planned to adopt when I was in a position to do so. Two boys, and then a girl. I love kids, and there are plenty of kids who need a good home, right? So that was the plan. Until the past few years, when it slowly became clear to me that I no longer had the stamina to keep up with young children and give them the attention they need. Good grief, where on earth does all that energy come from?? Respect, moms and dads. So I refocused my energy on being the best Auntie Mer Mer that I could to all of my friends’ children, and so far that seems to be working out quite well.
I love viewing the world through their eyes. I love viewing myself through their eyes. Little kids have no filters, they haven’t learned yet what they are and aren’t “supposed” to say, what topics are taboo. For example, I think it’s great (and usually hilarious) when a little kid asks about my prosthesis. Parents are often wary the first time the subject comes up, but in my view, it’s far better for them to ask and learn at that age and get answers directly so they can move on to bigger and better things, than to not ask and become awkward adults who doesn’t know how to act or how to ask appropriate questions. Little kids are rarely intentionally rude or mean, and in fact they usually are just making an observation. “Auntie Mer Mer, why is this leg harder than the other one?” So I start by matter-of-factly telling them it helps me walk, and as their questions become more complex, so too do my explanations. This past summer I visited family in the Midwest, and my cousins’ kids, who range from three to seven, were fascinated with my leg. It was a very tactile experience for them, repeatedly observing that the shin and calf portion wasn’t as hard as the upper socket (the thigh). Then I totally blew the three-year-old’s mind by demonstrating my ability to hop on one leg both with the prosthesis on and with it off. Good thing he didn’t ask me to hop on the other leg.
Through their eyes, there isn’t anything “wrong,” it’s just different, and sometimes different is really great. I also think kids understand and internalize a lot more than we adults often give them credit for. When I was about three and my brother was about five, my brother, having watched me go in and out of the hospital a number of times, asked our mom if I was going to die. Can you even imagine? Try as anyone might to shield them, they observe and absorb more than we realize. Mom scooped him up and assured him that everything would be OK, that I was going to the hospital so that I would get better. He thought about that for a while, and when he came to see me the next day in the hospital, he brought one of his prized Star Wars figures for me to play with and so it could protect me. When he came the next time, he brought another – but he took the first one back. Because whoa, let’s not go crazy. (Sorry, Prince.)
So before my surgery next Wednesday, I am considering the perspectives of my pint-sized friends. I am trying to view myself and my current situation through their eyes. Trying to imagine how I would explain it to them. Trying to imagine what questions would come to their beautifully unpredictable minds, and how I would respond. How I should respond, so they know that whatever happens as we move into this uncharted territory is OK. Again channeling Whitney Houston, it might not be right, but it’s OK. (I’m gonna make it anyway.) And whatever they want to ask and however they need to process things is all right because I will always, always love them bigger than a house. Or to borrow a comeback from one little buddy, I will always, always love them – and their adult-sized companions, who so graciously welcome me into the lives of their children – bigger than infinity.