When I started dating Mike in 2006, only one of his three siblings had children (actually, that’s still the case). He had a nephew Josiah, 2, and a niece, six months. I was delighted to learn that the niece’s name was Abigail and she was born in February. Can you say “meant to be?”
Maybe, I thought, she’ll be my little soul-mate and we’ll be one of those aunt-niece duos who are totally inseparable because when she’s small I’ll play with her and when she’s a teenager I’ll listen to her secrets.
Considerable expectations to place on a six-month-old, eh?
Four years later, I’m happy to report that my dream is becoming reality. Abi is now four and a half, and we are best buddies. I only see her about four times a year because she lives in Spokane, but when we’re together we make up for lost time.
Exhibit A: Airplane. It’s a classic.
So much of what I admire about Abi is that she is the four-year-old I wanted to be. I was extremely shy until I was about nine years old, so the fact that she bosses us all around at age four is totally awesome.
One of Abi’s most endearing qualities is the way she makes declarative statements without hesitation.
“Aunt Abby?” she said to me in the car one day.
“You’re the best Abby ever.”
She said it like that, like “an Abby” is an animal species or type of fruit. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, it totally won me over.
Shortly after the airplane scene, we were laying on the carpet like cats in pools of sunshine. She crept over to me army-style, and started whispering. Wendy, her mom (Mike’s sister), was sitting across the room listening to the kid-whisper that’s never really a whisper, because it can be heard from 10 feet away.
“Abby let me tell you a secret,” she began. “Sometimes I go into the kitchen and sneak M&M’s. Sometimes I run around when no one is looking. And…” she paused, because this was a big one, “…sometimes when my mom doesn’t know, I go OUTSIDE.”
Her eyes were as big as quarters waiting for my reaction to her big reveal.
“NO WAY,” I kid-whispered back.
“Don’t tell!” she added frantically.
I promised I wouldn’t. But, I guess I just did. Sorry, Abs, I’m sure you’ll understand one day when you have a blog of your own (since we’re soul-mates, you’ll obviously be a writer).
Exhausted by this exchange, she crawled up on me for a quick rest. Apparently spilling your secrets is a lot of work.
Wendy now has three kids (Eliana is two) so does my affection for Abi mean I’ve rejected two-thirds of my niece-nephew clan? Of course not. I adore them. But they have so many aunts and uncles that they have special relationships with each of us. After all, until I have my own kids, I don’t have to learn to dance around that timeless question of “am I your favorite?”
I say “timeless” because I’m still asking my parents that question — I am the middle child, natch — and they still say, “You’re our favorite middle child.” Ugh. Such a cop-out.
The biggest risk in becoming close with my niece is that it might set up unrealistic expectations for my own daughter, should I have one. What if I’m looking at her and I’m thinking to myself, “Abi wouldn’t have done it like that,” or “Abi would have TOTALLY HANDLED that sitch,” or “Why can’t you be more like Abi?”
But the more I think about it, the more I realize that this is exactly how life was meant to unfold — Abi will be older than my daughter, and will therefore have serious Abi-impact on her. She’ll teach her the special art of bossing people around with enough charm that they actually enjoy it. My little girl will totally benefit from knowing Wendy’s little girl.
In the meantime, I can’t wait for Abi to be a young adult so I can have her over to my place, where we’ll have a glass of wine and I’ll tell her about that one time she did something ridiculous, and we’ll laugh and cheers to the good God who thought we should be in the same family, with the same name.