I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child.
This afternoon my family and I arrive at the beach for our twentieth annual trip with my parents. Soon after we unload the car and unpack our suitcases, we slip into our swimsuits and sandals and head to the beach. Every year it seems like a stopwatch starts ticking when we see the first palm tree and smell the salty air—we need to get our toes in the sand as quickly as possible.
Tim and I walk to the beach alone. With each step forward on the aged boardwalk, I feel like I am stepping back in time. A vision of two little boys—the taller one carrying a boogie board under each arm and the little one dragging a shovel behind him—appear ahead of me like a mirage. Actually, it is a memory. Who knows how many times I’ve walked behind them, witnessing this scene? I know the shovel is rusty now, and it no longer drags.
When we reach the shoreline, I see children digging in the sand, and I recall the deep holes my boys would spend all afternoon digging. Sometimes Tim would delight the boys by sitting in the pit and allowing them to cover his body with sand. My heart aches with the memory. Those little boys are now nearly grown.
Recently I had a similar experience as I watched my niece interact with her two-year-old son. Midway through her second pregnancy, she’s still suffering from acute morning sickness that lingers all day long. Pale and tired, she harnessed her reserves of energy to engage with her lively little boy. Eventually he nestled beside her on the couch, watching his favorite cartoon while she closed her eyes. I could have been watching Seth and myself, curled up together on our futon, Seth watching Toy Story for the umpteenth time, while I—pregnant, nauseated, and exhausted—slept. A longing filled me for my two boys: the toddler snuggled up to me and the baby growing in my womb.
Today I mention my ache to Tim, and he sweetly reminds me that those boys are still here with us. And he’s right. I catch glimpses of them in the tall, lanky teenagers bent over a board game, sitting side-by-side in the movie theater, chatting in the car’s backseat, and even slumbering until noon. I still encounter my little boys in the tenderness of Seth and the creativity of Reed. I experience them in traditions like this beach trip, where we walk well-worn paths once again.
This epiphany is good and timely as I prepare to embark on a year of story work with The Allender Center. When I first read that participants are to reflect on our childhood from ages 2 to 18, a flash of fear struck me. I don’t remember; what if I can’t remember? Oh, how I wish I could recall that young girl like I recall my two sons walking on that boardwalk or spend an afternoon observing her, as I did with my great-nephew!
Yet, today’s insight settles the anxiety within me: “See your boys? They’re still here. And so is she.” I simply need to watch for glimpses of that girl.
I can fairly easily describe myself to another person. I can identify my gifts, strengths, and quirks; name my greatest challenges, fears, and pet peeves; and unpack my dreams and the desires of my heart. Yet, when did I first discover any of this?
Was it at the dance studio with my big sister or in the backyard with my best friend? Was it at vacation bible school or in the elementary school library? Was it in the quiet of my bedroom or in the hiding place under my grandmother’s dining table?
Sometimes we are so busy trying to figure out who we are that we forget who we were.
I long to remember that young girl, just as I long to remember my precious boys. I’m eager to engage her with curiosity, compassion, and care. I expect the year ahead will be a journey of rediscovery, and I anticipate that the stories I tell will return her to me.
When I catch sight of her, I will join her, perhaps sitting crisscross-applesauce under the familiar dining table, and say, “Hi there. It’s so good to see you again. I can’t wait to get to know you better.”
Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 21 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.