I taught Adeline and then Finley how to use my "real" camera and they caught on so quickly and got addicted to it. Charlie loved pouncing with an unsuspected attack, a big smile and tiny fists, lunging himself into my lap--it seemed to always be that with him or a sudden impulse to go around to everyone in the room and bestow on them the sweetest hug and kiss. He was thoroughly devoted to the slack line my brother installed for their birthday--back and forth, back and forth. Finley liked to pretend to shoot me with an empty Nerf gun a classmate had given them--Finley would pretend to shoot me after I protested and then I would have to turn into a thoroughly disgusting monster, curling my fingers and tilting my head, a snarl crossing my face, and attack with tickles while he screamed in delight and attempted to hide in the corners of the couch.
Then, there was the day Adeline and I spent taking pictures together--me taking pictures of her, and her taking pictures of everything--us wandering the yard on the hunt for the prettiest or most interesting shots. She showed me her favorite spots, and hung upside down on the ninja course and smiled her toothless smile ("I still have 26 teeth!!") Perhaps my favorite memory, though, one night Amelia and I were in a dimmed room slowly dancing, me rocking her back and forth like she loved and kept begging me to do. Her eyes getting heavy with sleep while her lips curled in happy content. I went longer than my body wanted to...step, step, rock. Step, step, rock--knowing the moment was fleeting and once I stopped, I would never get it back.
One day it was snowing big, huge, chunky flakes. Adeline looked out the window and declared defiantly, "Everyone keeps saying that it's snowing. It's NOT snowing!" Ryan, Phoebe and I all looked at each other and tried to convince her that it WAS in fact snowing and we should know. She looked back at us with the exhausted, annoyed expression of a scholar talking to a couple of ignoramuses and stated slowly, "It's not snowing. It's a WINTERY MIX!"
On a nicer day, Adeline was hanging out on the ninja course and looked at me, a serious and slightly concerned expression on her face, "Aunt Andie...I've always wanted to know...which came first: the chicken or the egg?" I chuckled, "Well, that's a question that's been debated for decades. What do you think?" She said, "I think the chicken." And I asked, "Where did the chicken come from?" And she said, "An egg." And I asked, "Where did the egg come from?" She said, "A chicken."
"How many more sleepovers?" They each asked at different times. And when it was down to "just one more and then I'm gone early in the morning, before you wake up"--two of the four (the girls) begged me to stay, or to come back soon ("In May with Gabby!") And I wished that I could--really.
One night I was asking the kids over supper if they could do this or that with their face...curl their tongue, wiggle their ears, put one eyebrow up, wink. None of them managed very well. But then, Amelia threw me a wink and added some eyebrow movement on top of it creating perhaps the best face in the history of facial expressions. She made me laugh so hard and then, knowing she could get that response out of me any time she did it, she continued making the face throughout the visit. My god. My heart. Thank goodness I was able to record it on my phone so I can re-watch it forever (or for however long those files remain playable).
I took about 400 photos on the trip. Adeline and Finley took a hundred or so as well. When I got home I made and ordered a book of some of the photos Adeline took. I'm going to send it to her with my first "real" camera (two camera's ago) for her to keep practicing. She's very good and she seems to enjoy it. So, I'm happy I can fan and encourage that new flame.
I wish I lived closer. I would love nothing more than to scoop up one or two of them each week, each day and take them under my wing. I thought throughout my visit...I could do this. I could have five year olds. I could have a seven year old. The desire for children so strong in me, suddenly awakened by these bubs, that days after I returned home my long-lost aunt flo reappeared after a several months long hiatus (normal for my inconsistent, unreliable, and unpredictable body). Yes, I crave children now. And I worry too that no child will ever compare to my nieces and nephews!
I'm back home now--back inside the busy bubble of life, the overwhelming nature of looming bills and my insufficient budget that never seems to swell large enough to buy a house or prep for life with a child. But I am motivated now, more minutely than ever--and I am hopeful. And I want to be a parent. I would like to parent with a partner--of which I am also still and perpetually lacking. But whether that right partner comes along to pair off and parent with--I will work on what I can--on financial stability, on a home, on empty rooms filled with love and hope for a child to enter them and stay, get nourished, and grow, and so many memories of love, laughter, curiosities, and true unconditional love.
On that last point--do all parents think they are prepared to offer their children unconditional love and then only as their child grows do they realize they do indeed have conditions? Why do so many parents fail to reach it--inflicting condition upon condition onto their (wholly independently their own entity) child before they are deemed worthy of their love or acceptance in being who they ultimately are or may become?
I feel ready to provide unconditional love, ready to own the ways I'm sure I'll fall short again and again in my practice of it, ready to encourage the unique flames within whatever children I am able to guardian through life.
In the meantime, I'll return to my post as a CASA, start my next case and do what I can to help that child find a loving and stable home.
And in between my jobs, the advocacy and daily worries and distractions...I'll dream about the future, I'll remember this visit, and I'll smile.