Right now I am flying in an airplane, watching the thin white line of the Pacific in the distance, en route to California. May 6 is my precious nephew’s birthday (he turns six!) and I need to party with both the sugar monkeys all weekend. (As my darling niece says in the presence of fruit juice, “I neeeeeeed it.”) And we are going to have so much fun!!!
Want proof? Just check out our agenda: we’ve got sofa-jumping and train time and Underwear Heads all lined up, and of course I’m certain there will be dancing in the kitchen, loud singing in the car, multiple rounds of Candyland, and so much snuggle-reading of so many bedtime stories that I will fall asleep before they do. In fact, yesterday my niece FaceTimed me and asked if I would be coming to her house for a “sweepover” and I told her, Yes! - a super special epic four-night sleepover. Then we freaked out together.
The monkeys bring a whole new level of meaning to the term anticipation.
So! As you likely already know, there is very little I love more than being Auntie Julie. It’s such an excellent gig. I mean, really - most life situations include both pluses and minuses, but being an auntie seems to really only have pluses! You know?
I get to be the energetic visitor who swoops in, already fired up to play whatever they want to play. I hoist them up and turn them upside down and spin them around in dizzy circles until we all collapse into the sofa in giggles. I chase them around the grass outside, make batches of “cookies” on baking trays in the sandbox, and participate intently in the stories we enact with their trucks and trains and Calico Critters.
(Don’t get me wrong, though - it’s not a complete free-for-all. I keep clean boundaries with the monkeys, and I’m definitely a no-b.s. zone. I used to be an instructional coach who trained classroom teachers on boundaries, for Pete’s sake, so that stuff lives in my bones. I'm very clear about what’s okay - raspberries on tummies! raucous laughter! fart jokes! - and I’m also clear on what’s not okay - spitting, biting, cheating in boardgames, etc.. So, they get it, and we’re cool. Which means that mostly I just get to do whatever they tell me to do, and we all love that.)
I relish my time with them. I treasure my role.
But you know what? It’s such a strange thing to sit on this airplane and anticipate conversing in complete sentences with someone who simultaneously exists in my mind as a day-old newborn. The memories are so clear!
On my nephew’s birthday six years ago, I completely remember holding his tiny pink body, wrapped in a summery blanket, standing in my sister’s room after so many hours of witnessing her labor. I mean, yeah, her labor was really tiring for me! HahaHA. I mean, I did stay awake most of the night. And worrying certainly does drain one’s energy. But commenting on my fatigue is like saying that I got a grey hair from reading about U.N. security officers doing relief work in Gaza.
My point is the baby. Remembering my nephew as a baby. The point is that I’ve got a fully alive mental photograph of the event of holding him for the very first time: I can still see the warm afternoon light in the room and his gauzy white blanket and his very wide-open eyes (they were so blue then! Now they’re hazel!). I can even smell the sweet top of his head. I can practically feel the weight of his little self in my arms, even now. Disappearing into being so tenderly alive to this new, fully-baked person.
Know what I remember even more though?
Something happened with that holding - in me.
I physically remember the moment where it seemed that my heart was cracking open so wide as if angels had been hanging out inside my chest waiting for exactly the right time to lovingly apply some kind of sacred crowbar. I could barely breathe. My heart got suddenly knocked into new and extraordinarily spacious dimensions that just as suddenly felt quite permanent.
An invisible, visceral expansion.
Of course I had expected to feel love for the baby, but we all know that a cognitive prediction is wildly different from a felt, lived experience. (Information is just a rumor until it lives in the body - because we live in our soft animal bodies, after all.) And the total onslaught of cherishing felt so dramatic and so sweeping - especially given the relative size of its cause!! - that it seemed like pure magic.
Still does, actually.
And that’s because it was - it IS - pure magic.
To me, magic means being moved so deeply (and perhaps unexpectedly) that something previously inaccessible inside you gets unlocked and shaken loose somehow...opening up brand-new possibilities such that you feel all shiny and infinite and flooded by daylight..and, as a result, things actually are different, both inside and outside, at a cellular level in your body and in your external circumstances.
So it's not at all an exaggeration to say that the total miracle of holding my newborn nephew changed my heart and my whole world. I can trace so many threads of change in my life back to that micro-moment of expansion.
So it's also fair to say that my baby nephew helped me begin learning the value in the unseen. His presence helped me know, physically, that there is an inexplicable, boundless force of love swirling around in our soft bodies (even if I can't grasp it firmly in my fingers and slide it under a microscope). That the tender and the sacred are also totally mundane - that we can be reverent and open to magic or we can be totally bored with our miracles. (That our stance is a choice.) That magic is REAL.
And that is why I'm going to California: the photos will show me hanging out casually with my niece and nephew to celebrate a birthday but really what I'll be doing is basking in the ordinary, extraordinary love that brings so much pure magic into my life.
Wishing you a similarly glorious weekend!
Much love, and happy Mother’s Day,