A month ago, my eldest nephew graduated from high school. Yesterday was his graduation party, and I bought him a book, The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers. I picked it up at Target one day and I was stunned by the (potentially accidental) metaphor it is for the kind of people we meet and the way we feel sometimes.
This is the letter I wrote him, taped to the inside of the book:
My dear boy, You are just about the age I was when you were born. I could not have imagined what life would bring between our graduations. From the joyful to the devastating, from the funny to the mundane, life never stops being a surprise, and it should be no other way.
At every moment, I have loved the person you are. From the chubby baby you were, to the toothless flag football player, to the shaggy haired boy, to the honorable man you are today, you have never ceased to make me proud.
Because I am older, I am supposed to impart some kind of wisdom. Because you are so young, you must try to listen. I’ll begin with what is not said often enough: the most true things in life are most often found in children’s books. Dr Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and so many others will speak truth and humor to your soul if you let them.
It’s true that the things you will learn in the next few years will prepare you for life, but I do not mean academics. What you learn about yourself and others will last longer than any Intro to Chinese History class will. The book I’ve chosen for you, The Day the Crayons Quit, is about the people you will meet. You will meet people who:
Like red, are overworked
Like purple, are a little picky and neurotic
Like beige, feel ignored
Like gray, are weary
Like white, feel empty and unimportant
Like black, are more than what they first appear to be
Like green, are mellow and easygoing
Like yellow, is a drama queen
Like orange, wants to feel special
Like blue, is at the end of their rope
Like pink, feels overlooked
Like peach, has been left out in the cold
And like Duncan, who just wants everyone to get along.
My dear boy, with all you are, try to handle each person as best you can. Learn to be the best kind of friend to all kinds of people. Notice who is around you and strive to make their lives better.
But Poke, don’t forget that you will often feel like these crayons as well. You will feel mellow, overworked, and all the rest, sometimes in the same day. Feeling this way is ok, but you must never let them push you to quit. Use each of these things to push you to continue to grow, to become a full, complete person.
The days ahead are an adventure only you can live. It is one of my greatest joys to get to be a part of this adventure.
Congratulations on your graduation, and with excitement for all that is to come, welcome to your next chapter!
I love you, Aunt Cindy
I was seventeen when he came into my life somewhat unexpectedly. We were both blonde and chubby, although he was given a pass; infants are supposed to be chubby.
My eldest nephew, Pokey, was born on a cold November 10 morning. My sister’s first born, this darling boy managed his first heroic feat just by being; in ways I can’t articulate, he seemed to save my sister. She became a new person, like most women do when they become mothers. At the same time, she was the same person she had always been, since she was like a second mother to me and my younger siblings.
I changed, too. I became an aunt, the favoritest title I’ve ever had. I babysat, changed diapers, spent money earned at the video store on presents. I couldn’t help it. I adored him. My sister lived in the house next door to ours, so I saw Pokey every day. I got to play a bigger role than some aunts do in helping him grow up. I am so very lucky.
April 24, 2000 was the first time he said he loves me. We were sitting at the table at my great-grandmother’s house and he suddenly said ‘I yuh you,” to which I said “You love me?” “Yep” was all he said and he went back to eating oyster crackers and watching PBS. He was 2 1/2.
I have countless memories of flag football, Saturday morning bowling, Halloween costumes, and squishy noses. I have stacks of pictures of Little League games, birthday parties, and candids.
The hardest part of moving away to college was knowing how far I would be from him and his eventual siblings. It was a million times harder than leaving my parents or anyone else. Coming home to see them was the highlight of any return trip.
One day, when he was eleven, I was in training, and we had a random day off of classes. I hopped on the Metra train and went out to my sister’s. When Pokey got home from school, he hadn’t been expecting me, so he didn’t think far enough to play it cool when he walked through the door. He squealed and jumped up and down. It was a moment when I felt so very loved.
He’s an incredible athlete, a great big brother, and exactly the kind of teenager people hope their kids will turn out to be. I was lucky enough in my ministry appointments to be near enough that I could still make it to the occasional football game or Easter dinner. He humors his old aunt, and for that I’m grateful. I love spending time with him, even if he is WAY cooler than me.
He turned seventeen on Monday. The same age I was when he was born.
Monday also happened to be the day I moved home, having resigned for the sake of my health and my family. As I drove the Uhaul home that night, I decided that this year, nephew gets his aunt back for his birthday. No more fearful, quiet, angry aunt, exhausted and unhealthy from a difficult work environment. He might be too old for Tickle Monster attacks now, but he can still laugh with me (and sometimes at me). I doubt that any seventeen year old kid is terribly excited about getting a geeky, slightly broken aunt for his birthday.
But tonight, when I got to my sister’s for the first time since being home, I hugged him in the basement after he turned on the Wii for his youngest brother. Instead of the too-cool-for-this hugs he usually obliges me with on holidays, he gave me a real hug. And he didn’t let go right away either. In those seconds, hugging this kid who is now taller than me even when I’m in heels, it felt like part of the world was made right again. I doubt that he has any idea what it meant to me. I don’t think he has a clue that he is part of why I am home. I’m not sure that he’s given my return a ton of thought (not because he’s careless, but because he’s a seventeen year old with a busy life), but I’m going to allow myself a bit of delusion and think that that hug meant a little more than the birthday hugs. I’m going to think that his arms around me, head on my shoulders, and solid almost-ten-seconds of a hug means that he is glad I’m home.
This boy who is almost a man has been in my life for half of my existence. I’m really looking forward to getting to be a bigger part of his life again, now that I’m home.
When I don’t expect them, there are moments…
When my 12-year-old niece is excited to see me and leaves her friends to come say hi, either not knowing or not caring that I’m not at all cool and won’t improve her social image.
When my 5-year-old nephew spends hours playing game after game with me, mercilessly taunting me when I lose at a Mario-themed Wii baseball game, gloating as he does squealing victory laps around the basement.
When I look at the varsity football field and am stupified that the guy who just caught an interception is the nearly-grown-up version of the little nephew who loved A Goofy Movie and used to love attacks from the Tickle Monster.
When I am the one who is able to get a riled-up, sensitive, impulsive, amazing tween nephew to calm down and feel better about himself and the situation. When I watch as he annoys his older brother by wanting to be just like him, just like I did with his mom when we were growing up.
When I am not expecting them, there are moments that make me feel like being Aunt Cindy is spectacular and possibly the coolest job I’ll ever have. Few people, if any, may ever know my name, but someday, the world will know theirs, and I’ll be one of the lucky ones who gets to say, “I loved them first.”
When I’m not expecting it, I’m reminded that these kids are why the world goes ’round.