When I was a kid, growing up with bright red hair wasn’t easy. It’s tough to remember just how red it was as it fades with age. I mean, it was a really deep dark oxidation red. A burnt umber that would have made Bob Ross sigh in delight and approval. Besides the typical teasing of being the odd looking kid in the neighborhood, there was an inordinate amount of hair touching that occurred back then too.
Now, before you start getting any weird ideas, we lived next door to a series of homes with older residents. When I think back on it, my neighbors seemed really old to me. Like Gandalf and Dumbledore old. When I really think about though, they probably weren’t that old, actually. They might have only been my parents’ age, and my parents then my age now. Funny to think on it, really, because my parents seemed so much older to me then. They were so… grown up. So mature for how I feel now. They seemed, for the most part, to be really with it. Solid.
Somehow I just don’t see my daughters looking at me that way. Now, or ever, really. I certainly don’t look at me that way.
Did my parents think this same thought back then? Did they feel grown up? I certainly don’t feel as old or grown up as they seemed back then. And, now, they certainly don’t seem as old as my neighbors seemed to that little ginger-haired boy back then (High five, Mom!).
However, those wizened older folks really, I mean really, liked my hair. It was so weird and uncomfortable for me back then. I really didn’t like it when they touched my hair and squeezed my cheeks. I hated my hair as a kid. I felt it was the bane of my existence, the sole source of my teasing.
However, like my hair, I grew to appreciate my neighbors — liking them even. I once scared the Ba-Geezus out of my Mom when I disappeared for probably only short amount of time that I’m sure seemed like forever to her. When she finally found me, I was in my neighbors’ home, sharing some cookies and milk. As a parent now, I realize what a horrible experience that must have been for my Mom, but at the time I just couldn’t see what the fuss was over some cookies and milk.
“It was just cookies, Mom!”
So, I get that too, I guess. I understand that crazed anxiety over a misplaced child, something no one should ever experience, and no one else will ever understand unless they’re a parent who has felt that (hopefully only) momentary panic of a lost child. But what I’ve been feeling of late is what I think my neighbors saw in me, and especially my hair back then as a child.
I get it now as I look at my girls. As I said before, I don’t feel old, but when I look at them they energize me. I understand now what they meant by “drinking in my youth.” As a kid, I worried it was some scary vampire thing — and not the silly sparklepire kind. That they really were soaking up my youth somehow. Funny, but scary to a little kid then.
I get it now, though.
It’s that feeling of energy, of being alive, when I watch my girls. Play with them. Cuddle them. And, now as they’re getting older and so much smarter than their old man, talking to them. I love talking with my girls. Listening to their thoughts, imaginings, and hearing their explanations for our world. They amaze me. They make me feel young.
They give me purpose.
So, I think I get it now. Maybe my old neighbors didn’t think or feel these things all those years ago. Maybe they just really liked red hair, I don’t know for sure, I was never smart enough to ask them what they meant. However, when I’m with my girls, they make me feel like that ginger-haired boy all over again. I need to pause and let their youth wash over me, soak it in, and remember to see just how wonderful a thing it is.