Someone’s cheek rested on mine, and it was Fox’s. He had snuck up on his tiptoes to wrap his arms around me, cooing in my ear. Gestures like this one from my three-year-old nephew last in my memory in sweet, puzzling ways. I’m cognizant of the fact that I’m writing about something that means a great deal to me, a thing he may not remember at all when we are older. Thoughts like these, the ones you are reading now, are reminders of my transition into that illusive stage of life I could hardly imagine. And though I’m in the midst of it now, I can still hardly imagine it; unclehood, adulthood, the accumulation of years.
Earlier that day, we were walking my parents’ dog. Flynn—the dog—prancing along, straining against the leash, tugging Fox forward. I asked Fox to guess how old I was.
“Ummm…” he thought, “nine.”
“Nine years old?”
“Actually, I’m twenty-seven-years old. Can you believe that?”
“Twenny seven year old? Wow, that’s pretty old, Uncle Will!”
From my vantage, all I could see of Fox was his puffy camo jacket and a pair of legs sprouting out from it. He looked very small, which elicited a fierce instinct of love and protectiveness in me. I held his gloved hand in mine. Adults do this to soothe themselves.
Fox called out to the dog. “Feh-lynn! Slow down!”
I was far away from having my own children, and from marriage, for that matter. My brother and sister, five and six years older respectively, were experiencing both. There are unaccounted years hidden inside “five” and “six;” the years of my nieces and nephews, working changes in Spencer and Katie that a “five” and a “six” without children would not. They seemed much older to me in ways that the idea of a year cannot accommodate. Maybe you know what I mean. You’ll know when you are the only one in your family unfamiliar with the sound of a new voice claiming you with a new name. Mom. Dad.
“Uncle Will, can I sit on your lap?” said Nellie, Fox’s cousin.
“I want to sit on your lap, too!” said her younger sister, Josie.
“Me too, me too!” said Fox.
They tumbled into my lap to watch Puffin Rock. Two on my knees, one on my crossed ankles. I’d have been little more than a chair were I not kissing their cheeks. I was one of many laps in the room, chosen because I was closest to the TV. I’d forgotten about laps and how frequently I sought them until I became one myself.
Times like these are exceptionally brief—the blinks of my eyes that I’ll tell them about when they’re too old or too big to share my lap. At that time, they’ll be someone new, but I know I’ll still remember what it felt like to have my arms wrapped around all of them at once, like this, close enough to bury my nose in their hair. This thought made me look around the room at all my family who must look at me with similar memories. They saw me at the very beginning of my life and watched me grow. The stages of my life are in their eyes, my parents’ especially.
I held my mom and dad’s gazes in turn. I wanted to tell them that I know. My mom’s eyes crinkled, and mine, too. My dad grinned and looked at me over his glasses. I know all the unaccounted for years behind your eyes, I thought to myself. I know you could never tell me all that that means.
“I love you,” I whispered into the ears of the little persons in my lap.