A couple of months after my niece, Calla, was born, my brother and sister-in-law sent a photo of her on a sheepskin rug, staring straight into the lens with wild, wide green eyes.
I was still in New Zealand, living in my front-yard trailer, when the photograph arrived in my email inbox. “She’s switched on,” said my WWOOF host, admiring the shot on my computer screen.
As Calla grew, more photos came. There she was, bundled in sky-blue snow gear. Strapped in a swing at the playground. Setting foot in the ocean for the first time, wobbling on tiny, tubby legs. One video showed her demonstrating a newfound ability to operate the bedroom humidifier with just a touch of her fuzz-covered head.
When I moved to New York in 2009, Calla turned one. As her aunt, babysitter, and—as my sister-in-law once kindly referred to me—her real-life fairy godmother, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of witnessing the numberless spectacular and bewildering transformations that occur in the first few years of life.
“Can you imagine one day we’ll have a real conversation with her?” I remember asking my brother.
Today, three years later, we not only have conversations, but discussions. The baby who once did little more than babble can now ride a scooter, sit through chapter books, make correct use of the word confidant, and identify several obscure varieties of pasta. (Anyone familiar with strozzapreti? She is.)
Calla’s a new person every day.
A few weeks ago, she took my hand and pulled me onto her bed, yanking a blanket over our heads. She held a glowing egg-shaped nightlight in her hand. “The grown-ups will never find us here,” she said.
“Am I a grown-up?” I asked her. “How old do you think I am?”
She squinted, lost in thought, and guessed. “Eight?”
I ran a Google search recently using the question, “can a person remember being born?”
Apparently, and not surprisingly, the answer in most cases is no. In fact, what I gathered from my search was that for the majority of us, first memories extend no earlier than the age of three—and can occur as late as the age of seven.
It’s unlikely, then, that Calla will remember her first time in the ocean, her penchant for the Milly Molly Mandy book series, our egg-lit conversation in her bed.
She’ll have no recollection of the many drastic metamorphoses that have occurred in the past four years.
I will, though, and I look forward to telling her about them.
I’ll also remember this as a time of significant change for me, as well. The difference is, I can recognize it. And feel it. And think about it. It’s mind-blowing, for lack of a better term, to be conscious of major changes as they’re happening, to feel yourself growing—having new experiences, learning, experimenting, being uncomfortable. I—like my much-younger niece—feel like a new person every day.
It’s kind of like being a child again. I imagine, in wild, stunning ways, it’s a little like being born.