"When I was a little kid," was how my 8-year-old stepson started the conversation.
He didn't get to finish.
His dad and I started laughing and barely managed to choke out a reminder that he was still a little kid.
That's when we learned T.J.'s philosophy on aging. You do it in stages -- many, many stages.
According to T.J., first you're a baby, then you're a toddler. Those stages are followed by little kid, kid, big kid, teen, teen-teen, teen-teen-ager, adult, old adult, very old adult and miracle adult.
"My world's the coolest," he said after he'd made his point.
He is NOT a little kid.
We mentioned that his world contained eight stages before you hit 20 and four from then until death.
He wouldn't budge except to add the very-old adult stage.
And to be honest, I don't think he's that far off the mark. Kids change rapidly -- sometimes daily, while adults tend to stagnate and don't seem to accept change as well, or as fast, as children do.
The changes kids make are wondrous, even though I dread every single one of them.
I couldn't bribe Katie into a kiss and a hug when I left, still can't. But now, when I say goodbye and head for the door, she comes flying after me yelling "want hug!"
I hold her tight and pray she'll stay just like that forever.
I've made that request many times. From the sleeping angel to the quiet nights rocking her, freshly bathed and lotioned, to sleep, I've wanted those moments to never end.
I know there's contradiction because each day I long for them to grow more independent, but am not quite willing to give up the sweetness or hilarity of their current stage.
My stepsons, back from Mississippi where they've been since Christmas, arrived last week. All the way to the airport I wondered how they'd changed. Were they bigger? More adult? Would they still laugh at my jokes and not complain as we walked through Kmart with my arm thrown carelessly around their shoulders?
The number of changes could have been infinite and in some cases were, but I shouldn't have worried. They're still ... well ... themselves.
They required new shoes and new shorts, but are still the same boys I remember from Christmas and last year's birthdays.
Except for when Nikki bit Alex, it's been a grand homecoming for the boys and an even better one for the girls.
Katie, who spends a lot of time looking at the boys' pictures when they're gone, still hasn't been able to get enough of the real thing and has developed into a new stage of her own. She thinks the boys exist to entertain her and be at her beck and call -- especially when they first arrived. And the boys, as excited to see their sisters as their sisters were to see them -- are fairly happy to oblige.
Katie's learning about cameras and spent the first day with a little plastic block "camera," pretending to take thousands of pictures. Does she know it's pretend or does she really think she's taking pictures?
She says "He's so funny, T.J." and "T.J.'s silly."
Katie cups his face in her hands and lets out a sting of unintelligible gibberish, spoken so earnestly and with total concentration.
T.J. looks at me with questions in his eyes. I don't have a clue. Just something her soul was saying directly to his, I guess.
The age difference means nothing.
At least to the girls.
The boys find it a little more frustrating. T.J. spends hours patiently arranging his cars into neat rows based on a system only he knows, so he's a little frustrated when Katie walks by and knocks some over. His loud Kaaa-tie! draws her attention, so she lays down, grabs a few more and starts playing with him. He changes the focus of the game to include her, but he's seeking structure and Katie's only seeking attention and a companion, so their styles don't always mesh.
He accommodated Nikki, too, who elected to put her leg right over the edge of his electric race track, stop the car on each lap and hand it to him.
Alex gets his share, too. As he's focused on the Playstation game he hasn't seen in five months, Katie keeps throwing herself onto his stomach.
They love their brothers and something that hasn't changed is their brothers' love for them.
There are things that stay constant no matter which "stage" they're in.
Alex and T.J. follow daddy, Katie follows the boys and Nikki follows Katie.
There's continuity there. The intensity will always fluctuate, but the feeling and the order will always be there.
I guess I can deal with that and all the other changes that come. I guess I'll be forced to, at least until I become a miracle adult.
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at email@example.com.