my niece's birthday is at the end of may and my nephew's is at the end of june. there's a great, a really helpful (to me) progression of birthdays in my sister's family with the oldest having their birthday first, then the next oldest is next, then the next oldest, then the youngest. my sister and brother-in-law aren't mad keen on having a big thing made of their birthdays but they're okay with the kids having a big thing made of theirs! i'm okay with that too but my memory is terrible at the best of times. i try very hard to keep track of everyone's birthdays.
so yesterday, on june 2nd, i dropped into my sister's family's house to pass along birthday gifts to my niece and nephew. i gave my niece a jigsaw puzzle with flags of the world on it, a 500-piece puzzle with fairly large pieces, given the size of the puzzle, and that went over pretty well. she turned seven and when my sister and i were that age, we were well-used to having a jigsaw puzzle inhabiting the dining table in our house, covered with a tablecloth when we were eating as a family and then removed when dinner was over. if there was a jigsaw puzzle on the table, anyone in the house, family or friend, was welcome to set a piece or several into the puzzle. it was something we as a family shared with all who visited us.
it was a good thing to see the reaction to opening the gift and revealing a puzzle. she seemed excited and i hope that excitement was genuine. here is a family tradition i'm keen to see carried on. (i'll teach my niece and nephew how to play canasta later...)
for my nephew's birthday i gave him a card game based around rudyard kipling's the jungle book. it took us a few minutes to work out how to play it but once we got the hang of it, we had lots of fun playing - my sister and i both sitting on the lounge room floor; my niece and nephew, rolling around on the carpet and patently unable to keep still while playing; my brother_in-law, sitting above us all on the lounge, smiling sleepily like some lean ginger-headed bodhisattva at the mortals entertaining themselves before him. the game is fun.
i felt very young, playing with my sister and her children. it almost felt like playing with young cousins, not niece and nephew, and when i had to climb up the couch to get up off the floor, my age was palpably present in my thoughts and feelings. it takes longer to get up off the floor these days and it's funny - weird funny, not ha-ha funny, though i do chuckle to myself about it - that fellow youth leaders have taken to asking me to serve less active parts in the large games with play during our youth group nights, roles like scoring friendly contests; being an information point in some scavenger hunt; such... low-energy-requirement roles. it's nice to be taken into account like that.
i suspect that i will always be "old" to my niece and nephew. though i no longer think of my aunts or uncles as "old" (i think of them as simply being "them"), i've often felt that i was already kind of old on the inside and i've been waiting for my outsides to catch up. at my twenty-year high school reunion, one classmate indicated her surprise that i'm still single and without children. i echoed her surprise and asked what she meant; she thought that i was ready right out of school to be married and having a family and assumed that i'd find someone who wanted the same. (thirteen kids, apparently. i felt that was maybe overly generous an estimate...)
having been involved in youth ministry for so many years has paradoxically kept me feeling young and old at the same time. high-schoolers will generation-gap the unwary in as little as six months, though i find the life cycle of a high school cultural epoch (? not the word i was looking for but as good a placeholder as any) is closer to about two years. music, television show, language and slang, social mores, all seem to me to evolve and coalesce on a roughly two- to three-year cycle. i wonder if we were the same for our youth leaders when i was at high school but i suspect we weren't - social media today allows for a far more rapid change of culture than our lines of communication when i was in high school; we were still writing letters on paper to send through the mail and recording mixtapes using the top 40 broadcasts on the radio on a sunday night on actual audio cassettes!
so my niece and nephew are reconnecting me to a younger sense of self than my involvement in youth ministry does, i have to say, but they're already so old so fast! no matter how young we are, or merely feel, still we get older.