Maybe My Child Is a Time Traveler

“It’s hard being the one left behind. It’s hard being the one who stays.”

-Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife

Growing up, when people met my dad, they would exclaim, “Oh, I could see he was your father before you introduced him.” My brother and I look so much alike that I’ve vowed never to cut my hair pixie short ever again lest someone confuse the two of us. Since my brother and I look so much alike, it’s been interesting having sons who share physical characteristics but obviously take after one parent over the other.

When I look at my sons, I see the genetic split so easily. Our older boy looks like me while our youngest son takes after their father. I thought it was as simple as that for a very long time. Nick looked more like the Swearingen side while Parker was obviously very Hatfield in looks.

We confirmed the latter statement to be incredibly true just recently. My husband’s grandfather gave us a box of old, loose pictures. They included many photos of my late father-in-law as a young boy clear through his teenage years. My husband and I sat, shuffling through decades of lost memories last night, chuckling at the clothing and commenting on how they all felt like a hip Instagram filter.

And then we came across this one.

Bill Hatfield, age 11, 1971; or Parker, the obvious time traveler
Bill Hatfield, age 11, 1971

It was like looking into the bespectacled eyes of my youngest child, looking at his sideways smirk. Is he a time-traveler? Did we somehow clone my father-in-law? What Black Magic is this?

I assure you that this is not a picture of my youngest son. This is a picture of my late father-in-law, Bill, taken in 1971 at 4-H Camp here in Ohio. You can tell that his mother sent him with the camera as there are blurry and too dark pictures of his cabin mates as well as some scenic photos of a lake and a pool. And then this one, an OG selfie.

Parker looks so much like him at this age and stage that it nearly took our breath away. Parker is a year older than Bill was in this photo. Their glasses are the same shape. It’s uncanny.

When we showed him the photo, he didn’t believe that it wasn’t a photo of himself. Everyone we’ve shared the photo with simply says it’s Parker, as if it couldn’t be anyone else.

And then we came across this set of two photos, my grandfather-in-law, in his teens and dungarees, posing on the farm.

Harold Hatfield, date unknown

That’s not Nicholas, jaw set, eyes squinting into the sun. That’s my husband’s paternal grandfather, a Hatfield through and through. These two photos were almost more shocking than the obviously cloned photo of Bill and Parker. Since Nick looks so much like me (and, well, acts like me as well), we’ve never really seen the Hatfield side much in his facial features. But there it is.

There it is.

I’m thankful we’ve found these photos and the many others that came with them, memories that aren’t necessarily ours but belong in and to our family. We can’t ask Bill about that trip to 4-H camp as he’s no longer with us. Mamaw, while still here, can’t share about it anymore either, the disease having stolen her memories away from her, away from us. I hope that maybe Gramps might be able to tell us, at the very least, the year of the two photos featuring him and maybe the location of the 4-H camp. I’m sure he’ll laugh at the resemblance between himself and Nick; I wonder if he’s seen it all along.

These photos might not have seemed like much back in the day, simple snapshots at best. I can imagine the Mamaw might have even given Bill an earful for turning the camera on himself in such a manner. I am so thankful we have it and so many other extended memories in paper form. They bridge a gap between the man we’ve lost and the time before; they give us eyes into a time we didn’t know existed, glimpses into who he was before we knew him, before he left.

These photos show us that our loved ones live on in us, even when we cannot see them, touch them, tell them we love them in person. We show our love for those we’ve lost by loving those still with us today.

Marriage Mental Health Parenting

Losing My Fire

I’ve always run a little hot.

I remember sweating through the armpits of my red satin shirt on picture day my freshman year of high school. I squeezed my arms tight to my sides as the photographer instructed me to tilt my giant, pixie-cut head to the side. I kept my shoulders back to keep my black suspenders attached to my plaid school girl skirt in place. You can’t see the sweat stains in the photo, but I know they’re as there as the giant golden glasses on my face, silver braces on my teeth.

I managed to sweat through another red shirt just last weekend, the heat beneath my choir robe growing hotter and hotter by the second. I don’t sweat in church because I fear God. I sweat in church because I’m one of two sopranos in the choir and it feels like a lot to handle right now. I sweat in church because I can see the doorway and I fear not who but what might come through those doors on any given Sunday. I sweat because hormones don’t stop on Sunday from ten thirty until the last words of the benediction are uttered, the first notes of the pianist’s postlude lilting through the spacious sanctuary. 

But I lost my heat a few weeks ago. 

In the midst of October, as we maneuvered our first full month after the loss of my father-in-law, I found myself sitting in my office, freezing cold. Sometimes this happens when I’m getting sick. I’ll spike a fever and the rest of my body will shiver and shake. However, I wasn’t sick. I was just cold. Both physically and emotionally frozen.

It’s odd when your heat leaves you, physically or otherwise. I’m not used to layering multiple tops and sweaters, covering up with a blanket, actually wearing socks. I know the tricks to cool down when I’m hot, when I’m overheating, when I’m darn near woozy due to outdoor or inner-soul temperatures. I don’t know how to warm back up it seems. 

It was during this loss of my physical heat that I realized my inner heat also seeped out somewhere along the way. I spent years close to the fire, easily able to go from placid and cool to firey rage. If you wanted to argue a point, I was there for it, ready to dig in my heels and prove my rightness above all else. 

That’s just gone. 

While I’ve physically warmed up again over the past month, too hot to wear my cute new sweaters, I still have no desire to argue, fight, or attend a debate of any kind. If you want to be right, have at it. If you need to be right, I am here for you in that as well. I have no fight left, no burning need to prove someone else wrong just to stoke my personal flames of self-righteousness. I’ve lost the desire to put relationships at risk simply to be right. It just doesn’t seem all that important anymore. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still competitive and I’m gonna win that moon game more often than not. If we’re playing UNO, I’m throwing a Draw 4 at you with a grin on my face. And I have a Clue Title to uphold after all. 

But I’ve lost my fire, my fight. Somewhere between seeing the moon that night two months ago and my husband taking my hand and leading me to the couch, my entire world changed. In place of that fire and fight is a heaviness, a brokenness. They say time will heal it, though I do not believe that to be true as I know a thing about those broken places, those heavy things. To hold my husband in his own brokenness, to help my sons navigate their unimaginable loss, to walk this tricky trail myself, I just don’t have it in me to rise to any other occasion than to love people where they are. 

Life is too short. I have second-guessed almost everything in the past two months, and I just keep coming back to that truth: Life is too short. Love your people as best you can and tell them as often as possible. 

In this cooling off period of my life, I am thankful for those who stand with us. I’m not who I was even in that immediate aftermath of his sudden, tragic death. Maybe it’s because I know all too well what it’s like to be in that dark place and now I see the fallout of that decision. Whatever the case, I feel my charge this cold November is to love my people in and through their sadness and grief, to wrap my love around their broken places and hold them up when it feels like too much weight to stand.

Yes, broken and cold and hurting, I wrap my arms around them and whisper, “You are loved. You are loved. You are loved,” over and over until they are warm again, until they believe it.