Is there anything more miraculous in all of nature than the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly? (Well, aside from the obvious example of coffee beans becoming gingerbread lattes). How freaking awesome would it be to go to sleep as a caterpillar and then wake up with wings?
But human transformations are still pretty darn cool. Brady continues to blossom. His first grown-up tooth is coming in to replace the one he lost, and another baby tooth is loose. He graduated from pre-school last spring, and as he told his Mommy at bedtime the other night, “I think I’m getting the hang of this kindergarten thing.” (Last week, I asked him what the best part of kindergarten was, and he said, “snack time.” Yep, we’re related).
And I’ve discovered that even grownups can still go through a butterfly-like transformation. You never really know when life is going to wrap you up in a colossal chrysalis and work its magic. Let’s see, I’ve had the new job chrysalis, the moving to a new state chrysalis, the grad school chrysalis, and the autoimmune disease chrysalis. But the Auntie chrysalis has been the most marvelous one of all.
Last month, I was sitting outside Salt & Straw in Portland with a friend I hadn’t seen in over a decade. She suddenly looked over at me, puzzled, and said, “You’re a KID MAGNET.” Now, I happened to be balancing an “ice cream flight” on my lap – which consists of a small plank holding FOUR bowls of ice cream. So my magnetic personality probably wasn’t the only force attracting the attention of the kiddos.
But before Captain AmeriCute came along, kids were never on my radar at all. I have a vivid memory of my twentysomething self, eyes glazed over, shuffling up and down each aisle of Babies”R”Us, clutching a tractor feed printout of a baby shower registry. I had no idea what any of the items on the list were, and I was pretty sure that I would break out in full-body hives before I could manage to procure one of the mystery items and get the heck out of the store.
Twentysomething Kimberly wouldn’t have recognized the woman waving at the kids outside an ice cream shop as her future self. Well, OK, the fact that she was scarfing large quantities of ice cream might have been a giveaway. But she definitely wouldn’t have recognized herself in the lady who burst into tears while buying groceries at Safeway a few months ago. I guess that story requires a bit of background.
I worked at an out-of-state event this past Mother’s Day weekend and arrived home Sunday afternoon. On the way to dinner at my parents’ house, I stopped by Safeway to grab some essentials, including a liquid pick-me-up at the Starbucks counter. Two spots ahead of me in the grocery checkout line was a boy – a dead ringer for Fred Savage from “The Wonder Years” – buying a $20+ bouquet of roses in a glass vase for his mom. There were a few $1 bills crumpled up on the counter, and he was carefully counting out the rest of his payment in quarters. He told the lady in front of me that he’d opened up his piggybank to get the money – and she told the boy how proud his mom was going to be. He was beaming. I wanted to say something nice as well, but it was taking all of my concentration to not lose it. I lost it anyway – and the tears were still flowing when I arrived at the Starbucks counter. I had to explain to the barista what had happened, so she wouldn’t think I was a total nutcase. I mean, sure, now that the Pumpkin Spice Lattes are coming out, there are probably loads of people who get all emotional at the Starbucks counter. But in the middle of May, not so much.
My emotions were probably extra wonky because I was exhausted from my trip. But Twentysomething Kimberly (holding a 4-pack of Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers in one hand and a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos in the other) would have felt a different set of emotions: frustration, impatience, and anger at whoever was holding up the line. She never would have appreciated the beauty of the story playing out right in front of her.
Yep, we’re talking quite a transformation – one that becomes extremely obvious if you visit my home. I’ve never had much of a decorating style. A fair amount of my furniture was either handed down from my parents or arrived in a box requiring assembly. My dining room table – with its screw-on legs that disappeared for a month after a move to Pittsburgh – was purchased at one of those stores that swears month after month after month that they are Going Out of Business. (No really! This time we mean it!)
But now I’ve found my decorating niche: Nouveau Auntie. This style features prominently placed Brady pictures in frames, art projects plastered to the refrigerator with assorted magnets, and a growing collection of knickknacks, including my Christmas presents from Captain AmeriCute: a hand-painted ceramic cupcake and “rock’n’roll soap”. (Yep, he definitely knows his Auntie.)
It’s kinda difficult to maneuver through my guest bathroom, as it is currently serving as a Naval Submarine Base for a sub built out of an Amazon Prime Pantry box. There would be more room if it was just the submarine – but this particular sub has a sidecar. Now, a naysayer might point to the sidecar as a critical design flaw, but who am I to rain on someone else’s creativity? The bathroom also has a Paw Patrol stepstool and Star Wars Softsoap. (OK, let’s be honest. Even without an Auntie Transformation, I might still have the Darth Vader soap.)
Tucked away behind the dining room table is a rocket ship made out of a Tuft & Needle mattress box. The rocket also serves as storage for cardboard wrapping paper tubes that double as lightsabers, a trick egg purchased at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes in Orlando, a bunch of planet-shaped stickers, and blank paper for Brady’s artistic endeavors. Oh, and the pièce de résistance – a big box of crayons. A really big box. When I was a kid, I always longed for the Crayon Holy Grail, a box with 64 crayons and a built-in sharpener. But I never got one. I mean, sure, I did have basic stuff like food and shelter and clothes and a bike and a record player and a dog and an EZ Bake Oven and a tennis racquet. But no crayon sharpener. So when Brady started coming over to my place to visit, my first purchase was a premium box of crayons. Get this: 96 crayons AND a crayon sharpener. Although I now realize that 96 colors is a bit of overkill. I mean, when Captain AmeriCute asks for a brown crayon, how am I supposed to know if he wants tumbleweed or copper or sienna or sepia? Not to mention that 96 crayons are tough to keep track of. Only 95 crayons are currently accounted for. CN-0096 appears to have defected. It’s possible he had help from the inside, as one of my tennis socks has also gone missing. On the plus side, though, the crayon sharpener totally rocks.
My home has always been filled with music, as much of the money that I might have spent over the years on nicer furniture has gone to buy CDs and concert tickets. My taste is fairly diverse; for example, the “I” section of my iPod features Iron Maiden, Idina Menzel, and Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. But now my musical range has expanded even further with an ever-growing “Brady’s Favorites” playlist that started off with our favorite tracks from the original “Star Wars” movies, but now includes “Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie, “I Like to Move It” from Madagascar, and “Livin’ La Vida Loca” from Shrek 2. My list of Pandora stations now features Sesame Street Radio – big thumb up to “Mahna Mahna” – Disney Radio, and Kids Beat Radio. (Brady doesn’t fully appreciate Pandora’s power, though. He just thinks it’s hysterical to punch the “Thumbs Down” button.) This significant shift in the soundtrack of my life has mostly been positive. It’s actually kinda fun when Brady and I “woof” along with “Who Let The Dogs Out.” But on the other hand, getting “Five Little Speckled Frogs” stuck in my head while trying to finish an important work project isn’t quite so awesome.
Perhaps just as significant as the stuff you CAN see in my home now is the stuff that you CAN’T see – at least with a cursory look. For example, I’ve had to hide my DVD of The Force Awakens. Brady isn’t allowed to watch the movie – or even read the Little Golden Book version – as we’re afraid he’ll be devastated when he learns about the plot twist that takes place on Starkiller Base. I know we can’t keep it a secret forever. But ooooooh, I do NOT want his pint-sized heart to break on my watch. I’ve also hidden my Beavis & Butt-Head DVDs. I know the cartoon cover would catch Brady’s eye, and he would probably want to watch. But I don’t think his Mommy and Daddy would be super pleased if he got sent home from kindergarten for telling the teacher that he was Cornholio and needed TP for his bunghole.
When the entire dashboard of my 14-year-old car lit up like a Christmas tree…on the freeway…during rush hour, I knew it was time for a replacement. I asked Brady what color car I should get, and he suggested blue and red for Captain America. Now, our choices in cars have progressed since the Henry Ford days of “You can have any color you want, as long as it’s black”, but I don’t think that particular combination is available yet. So I had to pick one (red) – but I did add a Captain America magnet to the liftgate. The last time I took Brady for a ride, he decided that the magnet should instead go smack in the middle of the rear door, on the side with his booster seat. After I dropped him off at home, I thought about moving the magnet back to its previous (and less conspicuous) home, but decided to leave it where it was. Seeing it makes me smile.
You see, even when Brady isn’t with me, he’s still with me.
When I travel, I usually bring a stuffed animal or a photo of Brady and then text pictures of them checking out the the local scenery. Yeah, I was the crazy lady snapping pictures of Snoopy in Baltimore and Hedwig in Orlando. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I also attempted to get a photo while holding up a picture of Brady in front of some stormtroopers. But I was told to “move along, move along.”
Then when I’m on the way home, I find myself in airport gift shops sorting through t-shirts and refrigerator magnets and giant zippered vinyl pencil holders to find something that Brady would like. My next trip is to Atlanta, and Brady says he wants an Aquaman figurine. Apparently, he thinks that Atlanta is just up the street from Atlantis. Not wanting to disappoint, I’ve already got some stuff on the way from Amazon just in case the airport gift shop selection isn’t quite up to par.
These days, my vocabulary includes phrases like “inside voice”, “walking feet”, and – heaven help me – “WE DO NOT MAKE VIDEOS WITHOUT OUR CLOTHES ON.” The latter phrase was spoken when Brady decided that he wanted to make a video called “Bedtime Job”, in which he would detail all of the tasks that had to be completed before tucking in for the night. But when it came time to film the “put on pajamas” scene, Brady got a little too into character and started peeling his clothes off. He was EXTREMELY displeased with my directorial decision to stop recording. But after a brief episode in which he railed against the unfair repression of his artistic vision, he recovered and completed a flawless second take in which he only pretended to put his jammies on.
We used to enjoy watching videos together as well as making them, but a few months ago, General Mommy implemented a ban on YouTube. The problem is that any kid is pretty much one screen tap away from age inappropriate content, regardless of whether or not you have Safety Mode turned on. For example, Brady loved this clip where Mr. Potato Head sneezes and his body parts fly off. But then YouTube unhelpfully loaded up another video in which Mrs. Potato Head gives birth to a carrot – and Mr. Potato Head expresses some serious reservations about the baby’s paternity, using a word that rhymes with “store” and which I hope Brady never, EVER repeats on the playground. And while Brady and I both loved “Day in the Life of a Stormtrooper”, it was all fun and games until YouTube suggested “Stormtrooper Bring Your Daughter to Work Day”. Now, if I’d been watching by myself, I would have laughed. But with an impressionable five-year-old sitting next to me, watching Darth Vader kill a man wasn’t quite as funny. So until YouTube comes up with some more effective parental controls, Brady and I have had to say buh-bye to our favorite videos.
Prior to the Unilateral YouTube Ban, we used to love watching the Star Wars Lego builds from EvanTubeHD and the latest antics of Charlie the Dog. And we also watched a ton of videos featuring people opening Kinder Surprise Eggs. You might not be familiar with Kinder Surprise Eggs, because they are illegal in the USA. Based on this information, you might guess that the “surprise” is a hand grenade or a small nuclear weapon. But you’d be wrong. The surprise is actually a tiny toy or sticker inside a plastic capsule, encased in chocolate. Now in my opinion, this is considerably less dangerous for children than PLENTY of other things that you can easily purchase at, say, Walmart, but apparently the Kinder Surprise Egg Lobby is woefully underfunded. So we can’t legally purchase our own Kinder Surprise Eggs, but people in countries with different ideas of what constitutes a danger to kids can buy them. (Although we probably agree on the really major stuff, for example, that kids shouldn’t bring baggies of anthrax to school in their lunch boxes and that rocket launchers are inappropriate for Show And Tell). Anyway, when we watched the video footage of our friends from other parts of the world as they removed each egg from the collection and peeled away the brightly colored foil, we would look at each other and ask excitedly, “What’s it going to be? What’s it going to be?”
Which brings me back to transformations. Each egg reminds me of a chrysalis, hiding a winged creature just waiting to reveal itself to the world and to take off in flight.
As Captain AmeriCute continues to transform, what will he be? What will he do? Create great art? Fly into outer space? Design submarines? Make movies? (Hopefully, G-rated ones.)
What will he become? And what will I become? I can’t wait to find out.
So yeah, the caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation is super awe-inspiring. And the coffee bean-to-latte transformation is nothing short of miraculous. But the transformation from Twentysomething Kimberly to Auntie? That’s been the most magnificent metamorphosis of all.