“Hey, Aunt Amalie! How are you?” David’s voice chirped merrily in my ear when he answered the phone the other day. I could hear his twin brother, Jacob, chime in from the background. A wide smile crossed my face. I dearly loved these two boys, my sister’s kids, and although I lived almost 300 miles from them, our bond was intrinsic and primordial, established the instant I laid eyes on them, just days after their birth, 12 ½ years ago.
My sister and brother-in-law went through a great deal to have these children; finally, in vitro gave them the gift of healthy, twin boys, as delightful and beautiful as you can imagine. I fell head over heels in love with them the moment I held them in my arms. Motherhood was not in the cards for me; endometriosis and a series of related surgeries rendered me unable to have children but I suspected I was not cut out for the role of “Mommy.” However, these two boys summoned powerful emotions in me, to protect, love, teach, and adore and I have been an active participant in their lives.
As twins, David and Jacob couldn’t be more different. Jacob is laid back, easy-going, with a gorgeous smile and spectacular white-blond hair. His penchant for building complex projects out of Legos leads me to believe he will someday be an architect or urban planner.
David could be my child. Passionate, willful, emotional and sensitive, he is also assertive and determined. I wish I could give him my thick skin, I know he worries what other people think of him. But I also know that experience is the best teacher and I try to guide him judiciously. He is our computer geek as he loves anything having to do with software and all things Apple.
They both crack me up, especially as they approach their 13th birthday. David, especially, is ever conscious of impending Puberty. As I spoke to him on the phone, he asked me, in his still pitch-perfect prepubescent voice, “Aunt Amalie, I think my voice is getting deeper. Do you think my voice is getting deeper? I think it is!”
I answered that of course, I thought it sounded a bit different. Then I couldn’t resist teasing him, and said he better watch out or he was going to walk around sounding all hoarse and crackly. This made him laugh. Then I imitated a deep sounding basso voice and said that the next time I called I wouldn’t recognize his voice as he would probably sound like that! He laughed again but I could sense the excitement in his voice. “They want to grow up so quickly,” I thought.
While shopping the next day, David asked my sister to buy him Axe deodorant and body spray. She looked at him curiously. She had seen the commercials and was surprised that this was a product he would be interested in. But she bought it.
The next morning, David came downstairs for breakfast dressed to kill for school. Spiffy pants and shirt, and positively REEKING of Axe body spray. My sister about wet herself trying not to laugh.
David asked her, “Mom, I used the new Axe stuff. Did I use too much?” Kathy diplomatically asked him where and how he sprayed it. He explained he put his clothes on then sprayed it in an “X” pattern over his shirt, then on his shoulders and under his arms. She calmly explained that she was pretty sure you sprayed it on your body, not your clothes and that you just misted it lightly. She suggested that he change his shirt but David insisted that he had to wear THAT shirt to school today. She told him it would probably wear off by lunch.
Then Kathy looked at him and asked, “So who’s the girl?” David blushed and grinned. “Maria.”
Apparently “Maria” was in his Math Group and was “pretty cool”. Kathy hoped David wouldn’t knock her dead with Eau de Axe.
As my sister related this story to me, I couldn’t help but wonder where the time had gone. What had happened to the chuckling with glee, cherubic babies that had been David and Jacob only yesterday? I remember when I would drive in from Pittsburgh to visit and they would be waiting for me as I opened the front door of their house. They would be holding on to the plastic gate my sister had protecting them from going up the steps to the second floor and their little faces would scarcely clear the top of it. They would peep up at me, not sure at first who I was. I would speak softly, “Hey there, I’m your Aunt Amalie, remember me? Look how big you guys have gotten!” and pretty soon wide, gummy smiles would break across their faces and they would begin to bounce on their feet in a delighted, welcoming jig that only a nine-month-old child can muster. Suddenly, the miles would melt away, recognition flared and the thought of driving back home made me sick at the thought of leaving them. How I loved my boys and how I loved my sister and brother-in-law for bringing them into the world.
I have embraced and relished every moment with them and it is poignant and comical to see them approaching their teenage years. Their wit is quick and they keep me on my feet. But I wish I could fling a lasso on Time and halt their impending Puberty. Let them be children just a while longer. Indulge in innocence and wide-eyed wonder for a year or two more.
I think I’m feeling wistful at the passing of time overall, not just of David and Jacob growing older, but of the passing of time in my own life. I want to say, please, slow down, there is so much left to do, so much left to experience and I need more time! I don’t want to rush the process! And I want my nephews to relish the process of Life, savor it all.
For it all goes by, all too quickly.
“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” John Steinbeck
My sister, Kathy, graduates this weekend with her Masters in Teaching. She is 45 years old. To say she is a gifted teacher is an understatement; as a substitute teacher in her district she is one of the most sought-after teachers in the two schools she works. An introverted, painfully shy child in the past, my sister has become adept at capturing the attention and cooperation of young minds. Her students clamor for her attention and approval. She is especially gentle and empathic with those struggling to connect: with the subject matter, with their peers, with other teachers, with their world at hand.
Kathy regrets that she didn’t pursue a teaching career while in college the first time around. Instead, she bowed to influence from our well-meaning parents who recommended that we both get into “business.” So she started working as a trust officer for a large bank. And was miserable, very, very miserable.
Then she fell in love with a wonderful man, got married and had cherubic twin boys and chose to be a full-time mom. Fast forward a few years as the boys grew older and more independent. Her love for teaching, (which had never really gone away, just sort of idled dormant in a corner of her heart), rekindled anew and she started exploring options for substituting at her twins’ school. A Teacher was born.
A wistful, “I wish I had my teaching degree” over the years soon turned into, “I am going back to school and getting my teaching degree!” Armed with a supportive husband, children and a cheerleading squad made up of her teaching peers and other school administrators, my sister successfully juggled full-time motherhood, marriage, managing a home, substitute teaching and a full-time school load to make it to graduation day this coming weekend.
I’m proud of the fact that at her graduation, my sister will be wearing the pendant I gave her for the special day. Engraved are the words from Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never give up,” and her initials. I’m also very proud of her.
The other day, my sister taught a first grade class for most of the week. On Friday, one of the students, who had brought in some flowers, told Kathy that she should take the flowers home with her. After all, as he pointed out, “you did pretty good for yourself this week!” Pretty good, indeed.