… on phantom kid syndrome

This morning, my beautiful niece (and mother of my Practice Grandkids) sent me a funny meme that captured the craziness of the holidays. It said… well… let me grab it.

Ah, here we go:

My bedroom closet is full of Amazon boxes. Zero presents are wrapped. Laundry is everywhere. Kids are screaming and fighting. The house looks like a crime scene, and the only food in the pantry requires a recipe that I’m not sure I can pull off. Also, I’m 90% positive I’m forgetting something…or someone. This is fine. I’m fine.

I sent a laughing-till-you-cry emoji.

Because I so get it.

I typed something exactly like, ‘Yes to all of that!!!” and then, “And you are thinking, ‘but she doesn’t have little kids anymore’, but I am telling you, it’s like losing a limb, you always have phantom kids!”

I hit ‘return’ on my message, shipping it into the cosmos,  but my eyes didn’t leave what I typed… now appearing as simple, white font in a cerulean blue text bubble.

phantom kids.

No, it’s a real and proper thing.

Phantom Kids.

There are still times I am planning dinner and miscount how many portions I’ll need, because Phantom Kids.

Or I find myself out on the town (which might mean stopping by a friend’s house for coffee, or maybe spending a little time in the  L.L.Bean’s flagship store), and I get that feeling that it’s almost 2:00, I’d better be going (that was always the time I needed to leave ‘something else’ because the bus would be coming soon). That feeling? Phantom Kids.

These fleeting sensations (of there still being kids at home) don’t make me sad or nostalgic, but grateful for the memories and experiences and lessons along the way. I am firmly in the camp that each stage of my kids’ lives has been better than the last, but the reality of Phantom Kids has allowed for some pretty great smiles (and tears of gratitude shed) over the years.

There are really two major ways that Phantom Kids manifest, one being those fleeting feelings like the ones I just described… but, then, there are visits. 

The visits are some of my favorite happenings this time of year.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that Phantom Kids only show up this time of year, but their visits definitely increase in frequency. I’ve Googled this, and can’t find any peer reviewed studies, but my gut tells me it can be chalked up to the general, pervasive themes of childhood magic and wonder at this time of year.

Also there’s the unpacking of decades-old ornaments and decorations – specifically ones made by young hands, with excessive amounts of glue and sparkle.

The days leading up to this week have been dusted with visits from my Phantom Kids. It’s hard to describe what these moments are like, exactly, other than telling you that – if a memory is like watching a scene in a movie, a visit from a Phantom Kid is like being with the main character(s) in the movie. Any and all senses can be provoked   – what I see, the temperature of the room (or bath water), the multi-leveled-ness of sound, the smells and tastes.

I can sit with a memory.

I can sit within a visit.

For instance, this year – on Decorating Day – I was changing the batteries for some twinkle lights when two year-old Gabe showed up (which was particularly interesting as twenty five year-old Gabe was in the other room). I got to watch him carefully tear off the wrapping paper from the rectangular cube he’d carefully perched on his straight little legs, revealing that year’s Hess fire truck. Immediately – and clumsily – he tried to open its box, but was struggling. Grampa – the Old Yankee Man – called him over, “Hey George, c’mere!”

Yes, the Old Yankee Man called Gabe ‘George’. No, we don’t know why.

I sat nearby as Grampa used his handy dandy, and ever-present pocket knife, popped off the plastic zip ties, cut the taped flaps, and helped Gabe extract the shiny new vehicle, ensuring batteries were in place and switches on so that the lights and sirens worked perfectly. Then he smiled, watching a very small Gabe-slash-George play at his feet.

It smelled like Christmas trees, syrup, a fire in the fireplace, and Grampa’s cold coffee (he never wasted anything).

Then, last week, while I was Christmas-ing up one of the beds, Sam stopped by. He was, maybe, 18 months old, and we were living in Australia. He was plump, and pink-cheeked, and jumping on his toddler bed. I watched from the doorway as he laughed – no – squealed with delight, and called for Mac in his Australian accent (making ‘Mac’ sound closer to ‘Muck’).

Sam was taking big, crazy leaps and landing and tumbling all over the bed. He never seemed to worry about falling off, or getting hurt. I did that worrying for him. He’d fought hard to stay in this world with us in this world – and not just once. Our ‘Boy who lived’, had carte blanche to jump on beds – proverbial and otherwise – and revel in those seemingly ordinary childhood rebellions.

There was a soft breeze and hum from the fan, lazily spinning way up high on the ceiling. There was the rustling of bed sheets on a waterproof toddler bed mattress, and the smell of the Christmas tree just down the hall. And all that was topped off by the the heat generated by a sweaty little Sam.

Mac stopped by just yesterday, a six or seven year old having recently moved from sharing a room with Sam to her very own ‘big girl’ room. She’d chosen a great shade of teal paint for her walls, bright white trim, and a wallpaper border featuring – what else – horses. Her collection of Breyer horses were carefully arranged atop the bookshelves that lined one wall. She was particularly fond of a tan horse that she named ‘Dusty’.

Dusty had a white patch with tan flecks back toward his hindquarters. Mac laughed when I referred to it as his ‘freckle bum’, and we made up a song about it (one I still sing to Belle today). That year, she wanted another Breyer horse, “a baby horse”, and she’d put it on her Christmas list. She was so excited about Santa coming in a few days that she could barely contain herself. That night, she wore cream-colored flannel jammies, the pants cuffed and piped with red trim. The whole ensemble was dotted with images of tiny red and green bows.

It felt warm and cozy, outside quiet with fallen snow. There was the slightest hint of Mac’s favorite Suave apple shampoo, and the faint sounds of Christmas music wafted up from downstairs.

See what I mean?

The appearance of Phantom Kids.

What a crazy wonderful, magical, and oh-so-welcome side-effect of the season.

Merry Christmas, and thanks for readin’.

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