“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.
When I was very small and wanted to disappear, to break free of it all, I would go to our backyard and climb onto my swing. I’d pump my legs furiously, climbing higher and higher into the sky, leaning back, eyes gazing into the clouds, feet feeling as if they were grazing the tree tops. My girlish voice would peal at the top of my lungs, “If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morrrrning!” I could spend hours on that swing, feeling the exhilarating wind in my face, the sun on my skin, and everything else would just fall away.
I’ll call myself Amalie. It is my mother’s name. Not that she is French, she’s actually mostly White Russian. When I told my lover that, he murmured, “White Russian, eh, that explains a lot!” Her name is the result of a typo on her birth certificate. Her mother was called Molly so we think that was supposed to be her true name.
At the core of it, I ached to get away from my typical middle-class, suburban upbringing, where athleticism and cheerleading seemed to rein supreme and reading books and a large vocabulary were suspicious and strange. I often walked home alone, trailing behind the other students, struggling with an unwieldy stack of library books. I was taller than most of the other girls, as tall as most of the boys and I remember cringing in 5th grade when my Catholic school girl uniform was yanked up by some mischievous boy, “would he notice that I already have hair on my vagina??”, hidden though it was by my white cotton panties. My breasts had already betrayed me, signaling my all too rapid entry into woman-hood at an all too early age. I simply wasn’t ready. Not for the gawking boys who gazed openly at my breasts, even the men who glanced sheepishly, looked away, then looked again.
My parents didn’t know what to make of me. Who was this changeling child that they had brought into this world? Both my parents were stolid, unimaginative, realistic, and somewhat critical. They loved us dearly, though, and believed that participation in organized sports promised entry into Heaven, or at least turned you into a promising human being. It was unfathomable to them that I shied away from anything athletic. They couldn’t understand that the last thing I wanted to do was run in public with my errant, bouncing breasts or try not to stumble with my too quickly growing and awkward limbs. My parents and I fought over sports ad nauseum and I soon began to hate them, never mind what I thought about gym class. Oh, the horror!
One day, the most popular boy in grade school, the one I had an unbearable crush on, circulated a survey around the school. “Do you hate Amalie Garvoille, Yes or No”. When it was passed to me by a smirking classmate during Social Studies, I covered my face in shame and despair and collapsed in silent, shaking sobs on my desk. What was wrong with me? Why was I so maligned? Was I really so terrible?
As a result, school became a place to be dreaded, and I carefully and fearfully navigated the social potholes that I seemed so ill-prepared to avoid.
As I write this, I stop and my fingers hesitate on the keys. Why relive all of this? I have moved on from this and succeeded in so many ways. But every journey has its first step, every story has its genesis. Thus I was formed.
So it begins. This blog won’t have any true starting point. I don’t have any particular measure of my life that I wish to dissect and share. It will be more a series of snapshots, of moments dealing with the difficulties of illness, body image and weight gain, self-esteem, sexual fulfillment and exploration, relationships and at times, abject loneliness. And the joy of breaking free of it all. In short, a life, my life.