A letter to my niece

When I was pregnant I thought I was going to have a girl, looking back I realize I didn’t actually think I was growing a baby girl I was afraid I was. I didn’t know how I would deal with the pink, the princess play, the best friend drama, make-up, periods, sex, and broken-hearts. I felt like I could teach my son about these things, but my daughter… well, that was a little more like teaching myself, and as it turns out, I still have a lot to learn. Consequently, I have a son who loves pink, likes to play mermaids and prefers to have his toenails painted. He has reminded me of the playful quality of being human, that the more comfortable I am being in my body the better I am at being a mom, and that what I was really afraid of was not having a girl but of being one.

For better or worse, I seem to be in your life as a catalyst for change, a destabilizing piece of the otherwise symmetrical puzzle of your extended family. At least that’s how I’ve always felt, like I just didn’t quite fit, but no one seemed to mind that I made the table lopsided, that my Texas red clashed with this Northwest grey. You noticed though. And at first you were not very sure about me. You had reason to be wary because first I took your uncle’s attention and just when you had adjusted, I added a baby. Suddenly all the attention was on the baby. You were not so impressed. It just sat there all slobbery and mushy and for some reason everyone loved it. But you warmed up. Your curiosity got the best of you. Soon you wanted to know about breastfeeding and diaper changing, information you would no doubt store for later use. We established a bond somewhere in the midst of those moments, but life with a little one is busy. We didn’t see each other very often the next few years, and your uncle and I moved apart literally and figuratively. The next time you saw me, you asked who got the snuggle couch. You needed to know, to try and make sense of things.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter… Memorial Day weekend, in your pajamas you came into the living room with a book in hand. I was doing some research on my computer for a linguistics project. You asked: “Can I sit next to you while I read?” “Of course” I answered. You never opened your book. We talked. You asked me questions about school and teaching Spanish. You told me about your school and asked more questions. There was a pause in the conversation, and you asked me “Am I bothering you?” I replied instinctively “No, of course not sweetie.”

The truth is I loved it, and I realized I had no idea if I would ever get another moment like this with you because, you see, my place in your family is tenuous. Some day, maybe sooner rather than later, there will be another woman to meet, to question, to accept into your life.

I hope that I get to keep being a part of your life, that I get to watch you grow and transform, that we will have more late night conversations about life. However, in case I miss out on those painful teenage years and am not around to tell you in person, I have made a brief list of Auntie advice for when you get there.

1) When your parents say No, listen to them. They are probably right, but if you know they aren’t, make a convincing argument. Don’t just storm out of the room and give up.

2) Take risks, make mistakes and forgive yourself, always forgive yourself.

3) Listen carefully to others both for their benefit as well as your own. Often we tell on ourselves without meaning to. The way someone speaks can reveal a lot about his or her personality.

4) Keep being curious. It is one of your most endearing characteristics, and it will serve you well in all aspects of life.

5) You are smart and beautiful. You never have to be less of either to satisfy others.

On the same note, physical beauty is a weapon, and it can be used against you. Weapons are more dangerous when you don’t know how to use them, so learn how to use it. By this I mean, respect yourself enough to not hide from your appearance while also not allowing yourself to be consumed by it.

6) The purpose of make-up is to highlight the natural beauty you already posses. It is not necessary, but it can be fun. Less is more.

7) Take care of your skin. While your friends are laying out to get a tan, put on sunscreen. When you’re old, your skin will be healthy, radiant and cancer free. They may not be able to say the same. Also use moisturizers.

8) Don’t always be practical. Do things that feed your soul even if they seem outlandish and fanciful. The more you listen to your heart the clearer the messages will be, but remember that the best results come when your head and your heart are working together.

9) Someday you will know what heart break feels like. For this you will need: tissues, dark chocolate, good friends and time.

10) No matter where you go, always bring a good book to read, because trust me, as busy as life can be, there will be plenty of times when all you can do is read and wait.

To me you’ll always be my niece, and there will always be a place next to me on the couch waiting for you.

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