Monday, September 9, 2013

Thoughts on hand-me-downs and the passing of time

This weekend, my twin girls will be two years old. Not two years old adjusted for their arrival date, which was about three and a half weeks early, but two years old...with all the glories and frustrations that come along with that milestone.

They talk in sentences now, copying each other, trying to outdo each other with their words just as they do with their climbing, their swinging, their jumping. They try to be the first to make their brother laugh. They fight with teeth and nails over the dinosaur plate at dinner and the whale bib at snack time. Identical toys don't pacify them- they both want the same one at the same time. Tears and screams and pushes and shoves dominate our days.

A few weeks from now, their big brother will turn five. Five years old...a big kid. He's no toddler any more. He's the one refereeing his sisters, setting the timer on the microwave to help them with their disputes over toys. He reads to them and pours his own milk from a small glass pitcher. He washes his hands now without being told.

This is the part where I'm supposed to say that it's going by so fast, that I can't believe they are this old, that I don't know how it happened so quickly...but I'm not going to say that.

I don't think it is going by fast.

It seems to be taking exactly the right amount of time.

Some days are longer than others, of course, but I always knew I'd be the kind of parent who would have more and more fun as the days and months and years went on. I enjoyed my children as babies, but they just get more interesting as they grow. They can play games. They can make jokes. They can sing and request songs they like (over and over and over again). They can say, "I love you, Mama." They can express empathy to each other and help unload the dishwasher. They can sit unsupported in the bathtub.

SuperSam, in particular, is amazing to me. He dresses himself and reads his own books and leads his sisters in long games of pretending they are baby otters trying to save the universe from flying crocodiles. He thinks critically about things and asks big questions, some of which I defer to his dad with his degree in philosophy. He's fascinating and sometimes maddening.

It's getting better all the time.

No, it doesn't seem to me that I blinked and suddenly they were nearly two and nearly five. It seems to me that we laid the bricks of the path that brought us here paintstakingly, one by one, bending low over our work, making our way an inch at a time until our backs ached and our fingers were raw from scraping over the rough parts. Parenting little kids is difficult, messy work. When people tell me it flies by or that I should appreciate every single blessed little moment, I think they've forgotten what it really feels like. 

What it feels like is a long, slow, uphill climb, where you only get tiny glimpses of the summit every now and then. Most of the time, I feel like we can't see the mountain for the trees.

I can, however, see the mountain of hand-me-downs, because it is always in front of me.

We are one of the younger families in our circle, so we are at the end of the hand-me-down line. I've been so grateful for the big bags of clothing that show up periodically, things I sort through and repair and put into bins for the future. We stack them in the shed out back: Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015...and then the ones I can barely imagine them wearing, put away in the bins marked Big Kid Clothes and Shoes to be saved for some far-off time.

When I look at the stacks of clothes SuperSam will wear next year, the year after, even the one after that...the size 7 jeans and size 8-10 coat and size 9 bathing suits, I can't believe he will ever be that big. The pant legs are so long...the arms that will fill those sleeves seem double his current wingspan. How will his feet ever take up enough space to occupy those shoes?

This has always been true for me, even back at the very beginning, with the piles of brand new, tags-still-on baby clothes that I lovingly stacked in empty drawers as we waited for Sam's arrival. Even the newborn sizes seemed hard to imagine on an actual baby (was he really going to be that big just after birth?), and when I held up the 6 month or 12-18 month sleepers, I couldn't comprehend how he'd ever be large enough to wear them.

When I sort his outgrown things to pass them down, it's different. I don't feel especially awed at how big he is now or at how much he's grown. Somehow, he still seems to be the size he once was. I hold up onesies, little footed jammies, tiny socks, and I clearly remember his squishiness, his scrunched up face laughing, the way he fit perfectly into the curve of my left arm when I balanced him on my hip. He was mine then- I knew him. I pressed my nose into the side of his cheek and made a buzzing sound that always made him giggle. 

He has always been the right size, in the right time.

Now, he somehow seems to be all of his former sizes at once.

The side of his cheek still feels the same against my nose. The top of his leg is still the most reliably ticklish place on his whole body, and squeezing it still sends him into fits of giggles and squeals, just as it always has. Yellow is still his favorite color, and he still always chooses the most wildly patterned socks available.

But he's even more himself now than he has ever been. He accompanies his perpetual ping-pong-ball motion with beatbox-style drumbeats as he bounces through life. He notices every detail of everything, yet forgets to answer when we ask him a question if he's lost in thought about something else. He always, always has a book (or three) in his bed or in his car seat. He loves puns, outer space, dinosaurs, undersea creatures, math and science and music and poetry and knowledge for its own sake. He's endlessly curious, exhilarating and exhausting.

I know him still, even better than I did back when he was a squishable gigglebox in a onesie...and the best part is that there is always more to know. With every year that passes, he's more complex, more fascinating, and more infuriating.

It's not going too fast. It is unfolding at precisely the rate it is meant to unfold, and I'm along for the ride.

I'm just running out of room to keep the clothes. And it is hard to get rid of them, because they still seem to be his things. They fit a version of him that's been swallowed up inside the increasingly long-legged, soccer-playing, violin-toting, pencil-chewing almost five-year-old. Every previous version of him is still in there someplace.

So as I sort the big clothes for Future SuperSam, I'm hanging onto a few of his smaller things. Maybe I'm not big on the overly sentimental practice of talking about how fast time is flying by, but looking at the tiny overalls he once wore does bring a certain amount of perspective...and that's almost always a good thing.