Dylan is full of questions and energy. Abbi is reserved and preoccupied.
Dylan asks me why I wear earrings and when I tell him he asks me why again. He doesn’t understand the idea of a guy wearing earrings just because. He constantly asks if it’s his turn while playing Dominoes. He’s full of energy, as a 6-year-old boy is prone to be. He roughhouses with the dog. He stands on his head on the sofa. He flips and jumps. He loves to jump on my back. I had to put an end to that immediately. I don’t mind the horseback ride, but the jumping into the saddle is not my style.
Abbi is constantly on her iPod touch playing games. She lays on the sofa in her own little world of games and reading. She’s engaged me a few times in her riddle game. I hate it. I feel stupid. I’ve never been good at solving riddles and in front of my niece I feel even more lame. If there is an even lower depth to my feeling of lameness it is when my mom hears the riddle once and answers it correctly.
Dylan wants to sit next to me all the time. Or sit in my lap. Or have me hold him. He thinks I am so strong. He cracks me up. He is so taken with me. Or the idea of me. I don’t know. He’s not up in my business enough for it to get annoying, but he wants to be in my presence. Maybe the innocence and pure love of a child just flows from him. He is the sweetest little boy. He’s loving and his face lights up with his front-toothless smile. I can’t believe how big he is. My heart is full at his display of affection for me.
Abbi gets quiet when she doesn’t get what she wants. That’s like looking in a mirror. I am familiar with that demeanor as I do it myself. She battles with her brother over who I’m going to sit next to at dinner. So far I’ve sat between them in the car driving home from the airport and at each meal. How gratifying to be so wanted.
Tuesday night I sat in my bedroom and showed my mom a video of the horse from the play War Horse. It’s a puppet. It is an amazing, beautiful piece of artistry. I saw the play on Christmas Eve and that puppet horse is the only thing that has prevented me from seeing the Steven Spielberg film of the same name. I’m afraid the movie will be too literal. I was always able to see the bones of the puppet while watching the play, but I easily forgot that he wasn’t real. I think the film will be a different experience and I’m not far enough removed from the experience of the play to let those memories be clouded. Anyway, I was showing my mom the video of Joey, that’s the horses name, and Dylan thought it was so cool while Abbi, almost smugly, said, “It looks like a puppet.”
My mom, Dylan and I sat watching the video in fascination. I had already seen it but got so much joy watching the two of them enjoy the illusion. Abbi left the room, a moment not lost on me. When the video ended and Dylan had run from the room - on to another moment in his energetic life - I asked my mom what happened to that little girl that loved Peter Pan on stage. Mom said she was gone. She said she might be hidden someone down deep, but she was no longer present at the surface. “She’s growing up,” was her next statement. That she is. Both of them are. Dylan still has wonder in eyes, while Abbi is a bit harder to captivate.
I remember when I started rolling my eyes and not being so easily enamored anymore. I can’t believe she is entering that phase already. Time has flown. It’s wings must be tired because they have gotten us here at record speed. I’m a different man from the one who heard the voice on my answering machine telling me to wake up that I was an uncle. She is a different little girl than she was even 15 months ago - intelligent, beautiful, pouty, quiet.
I sat on the floor of the room that was once my bedroom and had a conversation with her about social studies. She hates it. Her favorite classes are English and reading. She doesn’t understand why she has to learn about the things of the past. I told her it’s so she can see the mistakes and victories, the things that worked and the things that didn’t. I told her she may never like it but it won’t all be useless knowledge. How is it possible that I was sitting on the floor having a conversation with a little girl when 10 years ago my only desire was for her to let me hold her? How is it possible that she sends me texts now? How is it possible that we talk about books?
Later in the evening I found myself in the recliner flanked on either side by Dylan and Abbi. We were back to the riddle game. So I was feeling pretty stupid. Then the three of us started to play Hanging With Friends. I’m actually playing Hanging With Friends with my niece and nephew. Is this happening?
I can’t help but smile. They are beautiful children. Completely different. I think Abbi’s personality is more closely related to mine, but I see traits of myself in Dylan as well.
I am continually melted by their sweetness and honest-to-goodness love for me. I live behind a wall most of the time. I’ve been trying to take more-and-more bricks out of it, but it’s still there. It’s protection. I know that. Abbi and Dylan don’t care about my wall. They want in. I’m working hard to leave the hidden door open so that they always know they’re welcome and so that I can feel what I often deny myself, love in its purest form.