In case you missed it, I came clean in yesterday’s post and copped to the fact that for the week or so prior I’d been in Europe. The point of that particular post was to give kind of a fly-by of my thoughts regarding my first trip to both Europe and a formerly Eastern-bloc country. In my mind, though, what I thought about it isn’t the most interesting thing. For my two cents, I’m always more curious to hear what people believe is the most surprising thing about a trip like that.
In my case, you’ll never guess the answer; it has nothing to do with Poland.
I was gone for just over week, which turns out to be the longest consecutive number of days I’ve been away from my wife since the day we were married. There was a brief period when the Puddinpop, The Sequel was just a few months old that I stayed Minneapolis for two weeks. Smack in the middle of those two weeks, though, I came home for the weekend. Since then I’ve never been away from the family for more than a night or two at a time.
Because I’m rarely away from them for very long, I don’t truly see my kids on a daily basis. Yes, of course, I lay eyes on them nearly every single day, but my mind doesn’t see them for how they really are. When I look at them I see only my perception of them, which typically means those little kids that still need bathroom step-stools and special car seats.
In other words, I see them the way I remember them, not for what they’ve become already in such a short span of life.
When the Puddinette picked me up from the airport Monday evening, she had the Princess and the Attitude with her, and the two older boys were at a class. When I got into the car, the ‘Tude went off a giggling litany of “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” for nearly a full minute before he broke off to ramble on about every single thing he saw outside his car window while we drove. At that moment, I took a good look at him for the first time in over a week, and I couldn’t help but wonder who’d replaced my cute little baby with a child taking up so much of his car seat. I’m mean, sure he looked like my little Attitude, but he couldn’t have doubled in size after I left, right?
We immediately proceeded to the pick-up point for the Puddinpop pair, and waiting for them to emerge with the other kids in the class. When they finally came marching out in a herd of children, I almost didn’t recognize either of them. My eldest two children have grown tall and lost their childish features. They’re boys now, schoolchildren; no longer the little tykes that seemed so likely to fall off their bicycles.
Ironically, the only one of the kids that didn’t seemed vastly different to me was Princess Puddinette. I’m not sure exactly why that is, but it’s either because she’s currently at the age I always tend to think of them at later on, or she’s always going to be the same little girl in my eyes.
I’m both pretty certain and half afraid it’s the latter.
At any rate, yes, of course I knew (intellectually) everyone’s true relative size before I left; I’m not an idiot. But when I looked at them before, I rarely saw the boys they had become. Instead, my mind’s eye saw them for me. Having been gone for so long last week, though, my brain must have let go of some of those old, inaccurate, perceptions to which I had been clinging desperately.
My children are growing up, slowly, a little bit each day. And because it’s every day, it’s a simple thing to overlook the subtle changes, to never really replace the pictures in your head. One day, then, you go away for a week and come home to find them partially grown; those pictures in your brain burn away like morning fog.
There were many surprising things about my visit to Poland. Without question, though, the most surprising ones greeted me joyously when I got home.
Now I just hope it’s a long time before I have to go on an extended trip like that again. I’m not ready to come home to teenagers.