I moved out of my parents’ house when I was eighteen. Across the country I went, never thinking that I would be returning home for more than a couple weeks at a time. However, due to the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, I was wrong. These past few months, I have spent more time at my parents’ place in Northern California than I have since high school. It’s been an interesting experience because I never imagined myself living there again, but here I am: a 21-year-old in her childhood home.
During the quarantine, with all the free time I’ve been granted, I’ve spent a lot of time looking through my childhood bedroom. I found old school notebooks and assignments, expired cheap glittery makeup, clothes from my childhood that I should have given away or thrown out years ago, old stuffed animals, and even a pair of hand-painted Justin Bieber sneakers. My room looks quite different on the surface now than it did when I was six, but under the more grown-up decor, this room still holds all the remains from my childhood.
There are corners and pockets in the family home that I hadn’t visited in years– rose bushes and grape vines that I hadn’t paid attention to in over a decade. When I wandered into the backyard, I came across a hiding place under an overhanging tree that I’d discovered when I was a kid. I walked across the grass where I got my first bee sting, and I visited the wild blackberry vines growing along the fences, reliving the exquisite pleasure of eating all the berries that I could find. Everything was as I had remembered it. The grass was still soft and the vines were still full. My bedroom still held my childhood possessions, and the yard was still green and luscious. Home.
Leaving the backyard and entering the front, I walked up to the tall magnolia tree that has been growing there since well before my family moved in a few months before I was born. This tree was one of my favorite spaces in the small little universe of my childhood. It grew beautiful, massive blossoms in the spring and was always full of big silky green leaves. The tree was huge, so tall, and in a way, intimidating, but it had the perfect branches for climbing. My older brothers had tied a rope between a couple of the branches to help me keep up with them. It was the perfect tree to me, huge and beautiful and magical and beckoning and challenging.
I didn’t have time for things like climbing trees, even perfect ones, in high school, so as I approached the magnolia tree for the first time in years, with time and with adult eyes, the first thing that I noticed was how low the branches were. It seemed odd, as if the tree had somehow sunk into the dirt. I didn’t remember it being this low! When I started to climb the tree, I was again surprised at how low it was. I didn’t remember it being this easy to climb! I got myself situated on the first branch, then looked up at the rest of the tree, and still remembered my exact climbing route. So I did what I remembered: I lifted myself onto the next branch, reached my arms out and grabbed the rope that my brothers had secured for me, and used it to pull myself up onto another main branch. However as I continued to climb, it felt far different than it did years prior. I used to have to pull and lift my body up the tree, but this time I was basically able to step up– like the branches were tall stairs. I used to be able to shuffle out to near to the end of some of the branches, but this time the branches that I remembered standing on were so thin that I could only stand at the base of them for fear that they would snap. I could not believe that I had actually been able to climb to the top of this tree ten years ago. So, I just stood there, at the base of a low branch, unable to go up any further because I was too old. I had outgrown my favorite tree. This tree wasn’t necessarily different from how I remembered it, but the way that I was now able to interact with it was so different.
As I was standing in the tree, not having an adventure after all, I started to think about my current life compared to my life ten years ago, and how much my interactions with people in my life have changed. Names of old friends who I thought would be in my wedding one day came flooding through my mind, as I realized that I hadn’t even texted some of them in over a year. I thought about my brothers, and how I am the youngest sibling, and when growing up in this house and yard, they used to chase me around and treat me like a classic little sister. But then I thought about how lately, as life changes and moves forward, I often feel as if I have started to take on the role as the ‘older’ sibling in many ways. My mind also wandered to my mom. I thought about how our relationship used to be so fraught in my teens—we were both in and out of therapy because of it. But now, I can say that she is one of my best friends. Just as passing time changed my interactions with the magnolia tree, it also evolved my interactions and relationships with most of the people in my life, because change is inevitable, and growth is good.
I remember when I was a child one day I promised my dad that I would “never grow up,” and I really, truly meant it. For him, I was going to stay a child forever. But I, of course, was unable to fulfill that promise, as growth was, and is, going to happen even against my will. I have grown into a completely different person from when I was a child, and so have those around me. I’ve grown emotionally and I have grown in size– evidenced by my inability to climb my parents’ magnolia tree again after all those years.
No matter what, with time comes change, and with change comes growth. Standing at the base of my favorite tree that I couldn’t really climb anymore felt bittersweet. Bitter, because in a way I felt like something important to me was being torn away, but sweet because it was the reassurance that everything was falling into place as it should. We should grow taller and if all of our relations stay exactly the same, that means that we’re not growing. Time passes. Change comes. Growth happens.