Late one morning I received the following text – “She is not awake. I’m a little concerned”. It was nearly 10:30, well past Penelope’s waking hour, past breakfast even. I nearly texted back “Is she still in her bed?” but I knew the answer had to be yes. She’s in a crib and an exit attempt would quickly be followed by a thud and wailing. I checked our baby monitor and saw the tuft of her silky hair protruding from the blanket. My heart beat a little faster as I asked Jenn if Penelope
had moved. “Yes, when I checked the monitor earlier she was facing another direction.” I don’t know if it’s admirable or detestable that my thoughts arrive at dark conclusions with such ease.
Jenn’s answer relieved the growing tension. I remembered a recent conversation with our friend Stephanie about how her son stayed in bed all day on occasion, getting up only to eat and go to the bathroom. At the time I didn’t know hibernation was part of growing up. Maybe it’s because I didn’t take naps or sleep all day, or so my mother claims. “Always thought you were missing something” she said.
I thought all kids were inquisitive, curious about their surroundings at all times, but my mom poo-poo’ed this suggestion. “No, it was just you.” Does this explain some lack of development? That my curiosity as a child was more powerful than biology? If so, I’m claiming it as my excuse for any and all developmental setbacks I’ve faced. Not enough sleep during the formative years. Too busy being nosey.
A cat cried and woke Penelope. Jenn entered her room and said it was breakfast time, then stepped into the bathroom to get something. When she returned a moment later Penelope was asleep again. “What should I do?” was Jenn’s next text message. “Google “toddler sleeping all day” I responded, which she did. After a few moments of research two possibilities seemed applicable; Penelope was sick, which seemed unlikely since she was fine before going to bed nor had Penelope awoke in the middle of the night. The other possibility was a growth spurt. Jenn and I suspected the latter.
The thought of going through a growth spurt ignited my imagination. Thoughts of Bruce Banner (the Bill Bixby version) transforming into the Hulk with pants and shirts tearing to shreds flashed through my mind. I struggled to understand what and how the process of growing up works. If we kept a camera on Penelope for the entire day could we replay the video in time-lapse fashion and see the growth spurt, the way blooms unfurl with momentum and plants rise up from soil as though sprinkled with herbal holy water?
I considered aging to be an invisible process, requiring time to reveal the results. When I look at myself in the mirror I see the same person I did ten years ago with the exception of a few gray hairs in my beard and dark circles resting under my eyes. I’m convinced if I shaved my beard tomorrow I’d look fifteen again, a prospect so tempting I threaten to do it once a year over Jenn’s protestation. Jenn looks no different in my eyes. She’s just as beautiful and youthful as the day we met. The only discernible difference is her hairstyle. It’s not until we wax nostalgic and look at photos of ourselves from a decade ago that the tell-tale signs of age become evident.
But with Penelope it’s different. We look at pictures from a few months ago and marvel at the differences. The transformations are subtle yet collectively reveal a markedly different looking little girl. Like the way her wrists no longer resemble sausage links with hands attached, or how her pronunciation of words take shape so quickly. It wasn’t long ago that Penelope pronounced “broken” as “boken” and “mushroom” as “muhrhoom”. Even the observations she’s made arrive with an alarming frequency. Last week without solicitation she announced that mama and Penelope were girls, and daddy was a boy. All the defining characteristics of her infancy are fading, replaced with the first touches of the woman she will become.
I’m not sure it’s her development or my childlike wonder of it that surprises me most. Natural and expected as growing up may be, the milestones never cease to fill me with joy. I realize to everyone else it’s nothing but the passing of time and the natural development, but to me it’s magic. Because the older she gets the younger I feel in her presence.