Earlier this month, I went to Orange County, California to visit my childhood friend Kelly. The visit was the first leg of a two week vacation.
I was eager to catch up with her and to spend some quality time with her family, especially her little boys - Jared (5), Joel (3) and Jesse (1).
Knowing how different her everyday is from mine, ahead of my trip, Kelly warned me several times that her house was insane. I think she actually said at one point, "Are you sure you're ready for this?"
She was right. Her boys wake up early and are pretty much non-stop until bed time. They play rough, they ask the same questions over and over again (I actually heard an, "Are we there yet?"), they have meltdowns.
The most peaceful time of the day is Kelly's enforced "quiet time," where the boys retreat to their rooms and either nap or play quietly by themselves.
P.S. I looooooove quiet time. I'm trying to incorporate it into my own life.
I laughed to my boss back in Atlanta that my job never seemed so easy. Raising kids is hard work. Easier when they are as precious and hysterically funny as these guys - but still hard.
I suppose Kelly might've preferred that I use my visit as an opportunity to help her out and give her a hand with taking care of the kids, but I just wanted them to like me. So I acted more like her fourth child or, at best, the parent who lets her kids do whatever they want.
I'd get them all wound up around bed time and then tuck them into their covers like burritos.
I'd hold them up by their ankles, swing them around, and toss them onto the couch.
When the older boys asked if they could hold my Blackberry or take pictures with my big camera, Kelly shook her head, "no," at the same moment I was saying, "yes," because that's what cool aunts do.
A few shots from the Jared and Joel photo shoot.
Cool aunts also jump on trampolines. (Ok, this one was more for me and not the boys - I'd been dying to jump since I arrived.)
The minute I stepped onto the trampoline with Jared and Joel, my face lit up like a light bulb. I hadn't jumped on one in years and had forgotten how much fun they are. Their faces lit up too - probably because it's funny to see an adult doing cheerleading moves in broad daylight and under no influence of alcohol. I can't remember the last time I'd laughed that much - trampolines are instant stress relief (not to mention, a great workout.)
Both Jared and Joel asked if I would hold their hands so we could jump together, a request that made my heart melt it was so sweet.
After a full day of working to earn their trust, "Finally," I thought to myself, "They like me, they really like me!!!!"
One at a time, I honored their requests, holding their little hands in mine so we could jump together in the center of the trampoline. Evident by their even bigger smiles and adorable squeals, I could tell they were enjoying it even more than when we were all jumping on our own. When I'd let go of one, the other would be waiting patiently for his turn. Earning the attention of Jared and Joel and having them want to jump with me was so flattering. I felt like a celebrity.
And then it hit me.
They do like me and we had bonded, but that is not the reason these independent little guys wanted me to hold their hands. Without even knowing that I was doing it, my body weight jumping in such close proximity to theirs was sending them flying to heights they couldn't reach just jumping on their own.
I'm not sure if there is a technical term for this move, but I know it as the "double bounce."
I was first introduced to the double bounce in the 1980s by my older cousins, who during a weekend visit to my family's farm in northwest Ohio, double bounced me so high, I came down hard and sprained my ankle badly enough to require a cast up to my mid-thigh.
What happened after my fall is a blur - my mom tells me I limped through the airport in pain, asking her to carry me and forcing our whole family onto one of those golf cart things that beeps all through the airport. When I got the cast, it was so big and cumbersome, I had to cut all of my long pants to fit over it. I don't really remember any of that, though.
What I do remember, like it was yesterday, is what it felt like to jump higher than I thought possible; I remember feeling like I was flying over that trampoline - like I'd never come down. I also remember the look of proud satisfaction on the faces of my older cousins who knew they were the ones who'd made me soar.
When I realized I was creating that feeling for Jared and Joel, I beamed. I briefly worried that they'd end up in casts like I did and cursed my parents for never buying me a trampoline, but mostly I beamed. What a privilege to spend time with my old friend and get to know these boys so well.
The morning I had to leave, Jared, Joel and I took one last jump on the trampoline before I had to say goodbye. Leaving Kelly and her family was bittersweet. I was looking forward to the trip ahead of me, but sad to leave my little shadows and our trampoline dates behind.
Spending three days with three kids under the age of six was anything but peaceful - it was chaos. But I felt at peace and so very happy.
When I left, Kelly sent me a text message, thanking me for coming (as if leaving Atlanta to spend three days in Southern California was just such an inconvenience). She said I brought new energy into her house that helped her see what was right in front of her, but easy to forget in the day-to-day.
Her words made me smile. Another double bounce, perhaps?
After a particularly difficult year, I'm learning to fall in love with my life exactly where it is - even the monotony of getting up, going to work, going to bed, starting again. But I still struggle, as I think we all do from time to time, with wondering if I'm doing the right thing? Am I keeping up with everyone else? Or worse - is everyone having more fun than me?
Kelly's job of raising kids - keeping them fed and bathed while also building their self-confidence, teaching them to be kind and keeping them from turning into little assholes -- is the most important job there is. But it doesn't change the fact that it can be monotonous and exhausting.
For Kelly's boys, and for me when I was younger, the double bounce meant nothing more than a higher jump - a chance to experience the stomach drop feeling of catching air at a height not possible on our own.
A metaphorical double bounce from a friend (even an old friend like me who blows into town like a hurricane to tell you that your life is completely different from mine, but it's really fun and these kids are great and you're doing a fabulous job) is sometimes all it takes to help us see our own lives from a new vantage point.
The same old jump in a completely different way. The double bounce.
When no one falls or ends up in a cast, it's a pretty awesome thing.