In case you’re not aware, looking up with your eyeballs helps to drain tears just before they fall. Nobody will ever even know they were threatening. On March 6, I pointed my eyes up toward the jumbotron to proudly keep my cheeks dry as the only senior on the University of Memphis basketball team strolled to center court to receive his framed jersey. His time had come. With the spotlight white-hot on his shoulders, Alex Lomax shed his last little bit of boy-skin before our very eyes. And I cried dry tears because watching someone’s childhood slip away is always sad.
You never know when it will be your day to grow up.
Intensity was thick in the arena anyway — a big win hung just within our grasp. Standing with so many other people cheering for one thing is intoxicating, maybe now more than ever. Our souls needed to hear voices lifted in one big and mighty “Yawp!”** It’s been so long since really large groups of us have cheered in one space, but maybe even longer since we’ve cheered in unity.
So that day, Alex Lomax was our guy.
That moment with the jersey and the boy-man fighting his own emotion reminded me of my years of teaching at an elementary school. On the last day of sixth grade, just before the children were promoted to middle school, we held an assembly for both students and parents. At the end, the sixth graders were dismissed to the playground for their “last recess as children.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the parent section. The first time I heard the Headmaster send the students out in this way, I was so shaken up, I had to excuse myself.
There is something Edenic (of Eden) about childhood. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I see it in the spark of my four-year-old’s eyes. I feel it when my 8-year-old cuddles with me on the couch. I hear it in the innocence of the questions my pre-teens ask. There is something that is closer to what it all should have been. Don’t get me wrong: we humans are a messed up lot — even as children. (I have five. I’m well aware of this fact.) But as both a parent and a former teacher, I catch myself looking at mug shots and thinking, “He used to be a little child—somebody’s baby. What on earth happened?”
Even people who are famous for good things — like Brad Pitt or Halley Barry — once ran barefoot through a backyard somewhere, being little nobodies in the best possible way. It was the same with politicians and musicians; talking heads on TV and athletes who have super hero-like talents; entrepreneurs and scientists. They were all children, once upon a time. They sucked their thumbs or pacifiers and cried when they fell down. They all played with toys and learned to write. They rode bikes and raced. They slid down slides and won hide-and-seek. They drank milk out of little boxes and ate rectangular pizza in the cafeteria lots and lots of times.
And then, just like Lomax, they grew up.
Of course, most of the time, growing up is a process that happens over years. It’s rare that we march to the middle of an arena surrounded by thousands of people and step over into the rest of our lives. That’s unusual. But I wonder if every person has a moment when they shed their last little bit of kid-ness?
I wonder when mine was?
Maybe some people are able to hold onto a smidge of their playfulness and imagination for all their days. I think my husband can jump into play-mode more easily than I am able to. I wonder why? How is he able to perform microscopic surgery fully inside his adulthood, and then — not long after — wrestle with our son, accessing his 14-year-old self effortlessly? I’m jealous of this limber nature of his. I wish I could be more like that. I wish I could tell younger me to enjoy every drippy popsicle, every cartwheel, every sandcastle, every Saturday morning cartoon, and every long afternoon with nothing to do. I wish I could tell her not to take for granted snuggles with my parents and practical jokes played by my brother; mornings spent swinging until the PB&J’s were ready and afternoons at Adventure River. Because a day came when that life vanished. What I traded it out for is crazy magical too. Now I’m watching the people I love most experience their own childhoods. It’s an awesome thing to behold.
And that deserves a yawp.**
*Psalm 90:12—So teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
**If you know what this is from, message me. I’ll be so proud! Instagram @candaceecholswrites.
Candace Echols is a Midtown resident, wife, and mother of five. She has written for StoryBoard’s Page One Writing Workshops, and writes in quiet moments from her yellow chair. Candace recently published her first book, the children’s book Josephine and the Quarantine, and now writes a column for The Daily Memphian.