warning: this blog is going to be somewhat lofty and dramatic in its praise and awe for a certain very small child. to be transparent about my bias i will let you know now that the little one in question happens to be related to me. this might or might not have anything to do with the choice of language used below, and i beg your patience and critical reading skills to separate fact from fiction, exaggeration from accurate assessment, wild claim from hard truth. (in other words, take everything forthcoming with a grain of salt, but i beg you to withhold judgment till you meet the subject in person.)
my nephew alex is the cutest thing on the planet. now i know you want to say something like 'thats what everyone says about their own family member,' but as my older brother nate (alex's father) has said 'its a fact that he is empirically good looking,' and tho we all laugh at his false modesty, not one of us disagrees. i feel like i have a bit of proof, however. i have traveled all around the country and shown every last one of my hosts a picture of said 'lil toots' (as his grandmother calls him) and each time i have watched my host's face melt into a puddle of admiration and the strong desire to pinch cheeks. its inevitable. allison (alex's mother) talks about walking down the street and having passersby stop to admire the peanut.
it helps that he is also the most good-natured human being under 1 year old known to humankind. he *always* has a smile on his face, he makes up excuses to laugh, he practically forces himself into giggle fits, and he just, by his presence, makes your day brighter. its almost obscene. he is really delighted by everything which makes him a delight to be around. my entire nuclear family believes wholeheartedly that he is 1) a miracle, 2) the most beautiful, 3) the most intelligent, and 4) the most talented child to ever arrive on this planet. and we are happy to bore others with proofs of these claims. we feel this way because 1)he is ours, and 2) he is the first of the next generation to grace our tight little club and we are ever slightly more than giddy at the prospect of being a part of his life. the thing that makes all of us a little crazy is that my brothers and i grew up at least 4 hours away from any aunts, uncles or grandparents and never really knew how it works when the extended family is close enough to be a regular part of your life. my dads brothers and their families were way out in LA, if we got out there once every other year we were doing good. my closest grandparent was my moms mom down in southern indiana and she would come stay with us for a couple weeks a couple times a year so we knew and loved her, but not in a 'this is a constant in my life' sort of way. not like the fact that my parents take care of alex during the allison's workday every friday (shes a teacher and is done before nate) and he knows life in their house and falling asleep and waking up to them like its totally normal. which it is to him. its just so far from any of our understandings of growing up i think we are all still a little shocked at how lucky we are to find ourselves in this position. (i include myself theoretically at this point...see below.)
[at right: tofu all over his face]
all that said because i got to hang out with him yesterday. it was the first time in a month id seen him (which tends to be the standard amount of time between visits these days) and he has grown a lot in that time. not in size or shape, but in dexterity and mobility and perception. he is figuring things out at a rate of at least 5 a day, whether its that reaching for something will get it passed to you, or that when you make a growly roaring sound when you want another bite of banana you get fed and tons of smiles, or that you can get from one place to the other by getting from a sitting position to all fours and then back again, but getting up over one leg and sitting down over the other which accomplishes both a different location and orientation in the process (try it, it works). he is brilliant and amazing and so much fun, but my heart almost broke when i walked into my mom and dads kitchen yesterday morning and he looked up at me with a face that was halfway between indifferent and curious, and all over unrecognizing. cuz this means hes paying attention to the people in his life outside of his mom and dad and he knows them. so the logical conclusion of that is: i am not one of the people in his life. weep for me. this is a tragedy i am having a hard time recovering from. cuz what i dont like to tell people is i was 2,120 miles away when he was born, and i didnt meet him till he was 11 days old. my name does not appear in the home-made 'on the day you were born' book that lists the rest of my family as being excited to meet him that day. i am an awful aunt. uncle. ray ray. (thats the compromise right now between myself and allison, alex's name for me will be ray ray. everyone else is gramma barb, grampa wayne, and uncle seth. itll do for now...) whatever my title, im failing in my role.
and ive realized, even if i settle in chicago to be closer to him (which decision i will be more forthcoming with in a later post) i know myself well enough by now that i know i will not always be able to stay here. the travel bug bit hard more than ten years ago and wont let go. and its the opposite for my brothers, they will never leave chicago. ever. even to travel. i had to beg and plead seth just to come visit me in seattle. so i will always be the one thats away, the one that travels for holidays, the one that is coming home to visit. which on some levels might be to my advantage when alex gets older and threatens to run away to live with ray ray in london for the summer before college to escape the tyranny of his parents, but for now is painful only to me, the little one oblivious to his unfamiliarity with this person that looks vaguely like those people most important to him. which feels unfair, cuz there was a time when he was half as old as now, when he used me as a napping substrate and he knew my smell as one that meant safety.
so this has spurred in me the desire to make my presence in his life known. granted, right now it helps that i will be around for his first thanksgiving, his first christmas, his first birthday (in feb), cuz he is old enough to be paying attention and i wanna be there for all of that. but then ill be traveling for 4 months and might only spend 2 days in chicago that whole time, and well, he might start talking during that period. i will most certainly miss his first steps, and his first words (unless those come soon). im coming to terms with the idea that most of my presence in his young life might be thru sending postcards and pictures and videos. on the train home this concept formed itself into a childrens book entitled 'kisses from ray ray' which was about all the varying ways that a little fox cub named kit gets 'kisses' from a bigger fox, named ray van fox, who travels all over the world and sends these kisses thru the mail or the interwebs or thru other family members or what have you.
sometimes its just a postcard with the symbol of an x and an o on top of each other, like this:
which, coincidentally, ray ray has tattooed on a forearm (does this both look and sound familiar? it should). sometimes ray ray draws one on kits arm, too.
im kinda super excited both about the real-life version of this story, and the possibility of making it into an actual book. problem is, i cant draw worth shit. anyone have ideas for how to illustrate this or want to collaborate with me on it? anyone...? bueller...bueller...?