In many of our favorite stories about childhood, the children never grow up.
As the years roll by, Dolly, Billy, Jeffy and P.J.—the whole Family Circus…
Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang…
And even those rascally, pointy-haired Simpsons kids…
Are all perpetually just a few years old and a few feet high.
In this world, of course, children grow into adolescents, teenagers, and young adults; and their interests evolve from pumpkins, pooches, and playgrounds into pimples, peers, and privacy.
And so it goes with Little Sis Z and Big Sis T.
For a few years, I wrote about their childhood exploits, weaving together their personal discoveries, conversations, and observations of the world with my own tales about higher education and what kind of week it had been at NECC.
Since making the change from weekly emails to occasional blog posts several months ago, I have not been writing about my own “family circus” as much as I used to; and recently, a handful of readers have asked what they have been up to.
So here, with more than a little fatherly wistfulness, is a short glimpse into their more recent lives—a sort of ten-cent postcard from the Hundred Acre Wood…
Little Sis Z is not so little anymore.
Thirteen years old and already 5’-5” tall (on her way, the doc tells us, to possibly being 5’-9”), she is the family MVP: A year-round athlete, playing basketball and soccer in the fall, basketball and skiing in the winter, basketball and softball in the spring (Are you noticing a trend here?), and basketball—camps, clinics, leagues, and pick-up games—all summer long.
A couple years ago, I wrote about Little Sis playing for the “Green Monsters” under 12 team in our local town league—how at that age, fun and fellowship seemed to matter a smidge more than strategy and scoring, though Zoë had begun to specialize in hook shots and loose balls.
Fast forward a couple revolutions around the sun, and the competition is heating up. Team chatter, scoring, and winning, at least more often than not, matter more than they used to. Blowout victories on Saturday mornings are celebrated all the way through lunch period at school on Monday; and the sting of the occasional lopsided loss that used to be shrugged off in the handshake line can now take hours or even a day or so to salve (usually with a treat from Hodgies, our town’s ice cream hangout stand).
Among those “weeklies” are also tales of Little Sis Z’s early, budding interest in arts and crafts, as she took her first painting lessons, slathered up the kitchen papier-mâché-ing, and experimented with DIY “bath bombs” and other, um, handy trinkets.
These days, she has an entire portion of her room (and a chunk of the basement) devoted to crafty things that keep her motor going when she’s not out on the field or court—and the source of most of her artsy inspiration is her cell phone. A steady stream of memes and videos on Instagram, Snap Chat, Pinterest, and other apps fuel her creativity and produce a veritable swap shop’s worth of family and friend gifts for any occasion.
And now, at the very center of Little Sis’ personal makerspace, is a brand new, full-sized, hi-tech sewing machine. It’s the pride of her collection—a recent birthday gift from Grandma that came with lessons and a starter bag of thread, fabric and patches. In no time at all, she had stitched together a quilted throw pillow, a case for her cell phone, a potholder, and what looked like a collection of little coin purses (or tiny jackets for her pet goldfish).
Like many girls her age, Little Sis Z is becoming more fashion conscious. Bean Boots, leggings, and scarves pair up with just about anything, it seems. She will soon have her braces removed, and spends more or less the same amount of time in front of the mirror each day that not long ago she chided her older sister for.
And, though her thirteen-year-old self may react differently to the world around her than her eight-year old self did not so long ago—stretching both highs and lows in sometimes unexpected ways—at heart, she still finds joy and excitement in most things, and likes to accentuate the positive.
A few weeks ago she decided it was time to put away some childhood things in her room and update it to reflect her maturing, teenage self. In addition to handcrafted, wall-mounted display cases for her growing collections of earrings, sunglasses, and bandanas, she hung signs reminding her and any visitors to “Be Bold. Be Creative. Be Courageous.” And my favorite, this upbeat reminder:
Shine on, Little Sis.
Big Sis T is on the road.
One of the first “weeklies” I wrote about Big Sis T, more than five years ago, described how she was beginning to fall for a pint-sized neighborhood lothario with a fleet of remote-controlled monster trucks.
Well, that budding romance never left the parking lot, but a few more have come and gone since then, and Big Sis, who turns 17 today, now sits happily and confidently behind the wheel of her own car; a stylish (not to mention sturdy and safe) blue Volvo, festooned with the sort of bumper stickers you would expect to see on the back of a New England wagon driven by a progressive-minded teenage girl.
A budding social justice organizer and activist, with a particular interest in LGBTQIA+ and women’s issues, and more recently, a growing attention to the challenges faced by immigrants in our communities (last week, she interviewed NECC’s Commencement speaker, Daniela Chavez-Hernandez about her experiences as an undocumented immigrant for a school project about historic events), Big Sis can be a passionate and formidable defender of the rights of the underserved or mistreated.
It’s a passion that often finds its voice in T’s favorite way of expressing herself: music.
Five summers ago, Big Sis T went to “Song Writer Camp” at DeAngelis School of Music in Haverhill. She and a collection of young, aspiring keyboarders, drummers, and guitar players deconstructed and rewrote frothy pop tunes by Katy Perry and really listened to the Boss for the first time—and she was hooked.
Countless hours of voice and guitar lessons and practice later, Big Sis is a skilled musician who has already released a CD, hosts her own web site (and Facebook and Instagram pages), has had her original work played on The River, recently headlined at the Firehouse in Newburyport, and regularly performs at area restaurants, coffee shops, and town festivals.
She is looking ahead to the fall and her senior year, when she plans to apply and audition for music schools where she can also study business. Good strategy.
Having another driver around the house is pretty handy from time to time. Last week, while I was attending a couple of evening events on campus, Big Sis T drove Little Sis Z to soccer practice, which is held out on the field near their old elementary school in our town.
She stayed for a while and watched the younger girls kick the ball around, then meandered over to the playground where their even smaller siblings were romping on the ropes, swings, and slides.
Caught up in the moment, and a touch of youthful reverie, she kicked off her flip-flops and scrambled over the sand, making a beeline for her old favorite: the monkey bars.
And nearly knocked herself out on the first rung.
As she reported to me later at dinner: “I remembered those monkey bars being MUCH taller!”
Yes, in many of our favorite stories about childhood, the children never grow up.
And then there are those stories of childhood that resist, but apprehend, the growing up that one day follows.
Although Peter Pan flies back to Neverland, remaining young forever; Wendy, her brothers, and the Lost Boys all return to the Darlings’ Bloomsbury home, where, we later learn, Wendy marries one of those Lost Boys and eventually has a daughter of her own, Jane, who ventures out again with the ageless Pan.
In one of Big Sis T and Little Sis Z’s favorite childhood stories, Winnie the Pooh, the final scene between the young boy, now growing up a bit, and his bear, is familiar to parents everywhere.
And today, as our family gathers together to celebrate Big Sis’ birthday (and Little Sis’ boisterousness), it tugs at my heart, and brings a smile to my face…
Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hands, called out, “Pooh!”
“Yes?” said Pooh.
“Yes, Christopher Robin?”
“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”
“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”
Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again. “Yes, Christopher Robin?” said Pooh helpfully.
“Pooh, when I’m – you know – when I’m not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?”
“Will you be here too?”
“Yes, Pooh, I will be, really. I promise I will be, Pooh.”
“That’s good,” said Pooh.
“Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.”
Pooh thought for a little. “How old shall I be then?”
“Pooh nodded. “I promise,” he said.
Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw. “Pooh,” said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I—if I’m not quite—“ he stopped and tried again— “Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?”
“Oh, nothing.” He laughed and jumped to his feet. “Come on!”
“Where?” said Pooh.
“Anywhere,” said Christopher Robin.
* * *
So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.