My home office in our old house used to be the showcase for my daughter’s artwork. Everywhere you looked, there were paintings and construction paper creations hanging all around. My son’s work hung among them too, but he would bring home far less than she would. If my work space was an actual Manhattan art exhibit, she would be the one wearing a scarf with her picture on the poster out front.
You could barely open the closet in that room without knocking a barrage of glitter and beads to the carpet. Googly eyes googled and sparkly paper sparkled every time you took a step.
When we moved a few months back, I wanted to grow from the hectic décor with the constantly falling crafts to something less chaotic. Nothing needed to be frantically taped up, just displayed calmly and tastefully.
A few weeks after moving in, I bought a big white board for the wall and a ton of magnets to go with it. Not only did I see it a great way to keep notes, but I could use it to display Olivia’s awesome school work as it came rolling in. Her smiling self-portraits with curly hair and blue eyes could easily be spotlighted for all to see. I even bought a magnet made of corkboard, complete with pushpins, to showcase her best school-time art. I was so excited.
Two months later, that corkboard magnet is still sitting there unused. I haven’t pushpinned anything into it since I took it out of the package in August. Nothing. Upon realizing it, I turned to my wife and, almost like an epiphany that I felt dumb for taking so long to realize, said:
I, uh, guess they don’t really do that anymore, huh? Ten-year olds don’t bring home too much macaroni art.
Part of me feels silly for my surprise. I guess I pictured her handing me paper stacks of glue and popsicle sticks until she was in her 50s. It was such a part of our lives that I never thought about it ending or realized when it did. The old house had ten years worth of coloring pages. This house was starting fresh. Who knows when it all really stopped?
So, of course, that sends me down the wormhole of all the things that she doesn’t do anymore. That’s what made me realize that I haven’t gotten a new library card since we moved in. In fact, my library card actually expired long before we ever moved out. I just never renewed it. In total, I’ve probably gone more than a year.
This is a big deal because Olivia and I used to live at the library when she was little. With our home practically next door, it was such an easy walk that we did almost daily. I remember racing her up the ramp and though the automatic doors. Once inside, I’d find myself scanning the tops of the miniature bookcases for her bouncy hair as she’d run into the children’s room. I’d flip through DVDs and games while she’d excitedly come back with the latest Pinkalicious or Betty Bunny tale. We’d check them out, four at a time, and read them that night. A day or two later, we’d be back for more. This all feels like it happened yesterday.
As she started to get older, her love of the library and the oversized books about talking animals started to wane, yet I pushed on. I’d go when she was at school and pick out the books she might like. The first time I did this, the librarian reacted with a big comedic look of shock as I passed her desk. She glanced around the floor below me and asked:
Uh, did you forget someone? Ha ha.
Our visits soon became solo trips that saw me return with a pile of books and the hope that she might be excited for one or two of them. Sometimes she would be. Sometimes she wouldn’t. Either way, we read them all. It was a huge part of our life for a while.
It was a huge part that just stopped. That was it. It was over. I don’t know when. I can’t even guess. All I know is that one day we went to the kid’s section of the library together for the last time and neither one of us knew it.
She’s outgrown the days of board books and baby games in that half-sized reading room. That’s not a sad statement. That’s a fact. She’s ten and her love of literature has branched out beyond my teary-eyed memories. We still read together on occasion and talk about the work she does in school, but it’s not like it was then. It can’t be. She’s not that kid anymore.
If you told me a few years ago about this, I would have been the saddest guy in the room. If you sat me down in 2013 and predicted, “Five years from now, there will be no more construction paper piles on your wall or trips to the library”, I would have been devastated. It sounds horrible. Yet, here I am, after it happened, and I didn’t even notice until I really thought about it.
I didn’t notice because my relationship with Olivia has evolved since then. We might not go to the library together, but we do lots of things together. We play basketball, Roblox, attack, and spend hours drawing. Her love of books hasn’t vanished either. Now, she’d rather write her own stories and we brainstorm ideas about whatever tale she’s looking to create. This version of my kid is the best version of my kid.
Honestly, I can say that about every version of her at every step of our journey together so far. The time we put in before leads us to the time we have now. Thinking back on moments from their childhood can make any parent give a shot of sadface. I know I often do. It’s hard to think about your baby suddenly disappearing and getting replaced by a futuristic stranger. It makes the prospect of your children growing up a terrifying thought.
She’s not a stranger, though. She’s the culmination of all the moments that came before just as she will be after. She’s the result of all the pride and attention I showed her. My daughter might not be my literal baby anymore, but she’s still my baby and, glitter-glued construction paper or not, she always will be.