It was early evening when the phone rang. I was over at your great-grandparents’ house and I went upstairs to take the call in private. Your daddy doesn’t call often so at first I was scared there might be something wrong and I wanted to answer right away. I relaxed as soon as I heard his voice; I could tell he was smiling just by listening.
“I just wanted you to know,” he said, almost giggling with held-in excitement, “you’re going to be an auntie.”
I was speechless. I had to sit down right away. I kept forgetting to breathe and my face started hurting from how hard I was smiling. The first thing I remember saying was, “Can I make the baby blanket?”
I was out shopping for yarn and fabric immediately, telling everyone that my little niecephew was on the way, imagining what you would be like, what we would do together, what I could add to your life to help you learn and grow into the person you’ll want to be.
I wondered if I could ever be good enough for you, if I could ever offer the support and the love a child needs from their aunt. I wondered how I was supposed to know how much was good enough, or if there was even such a thing as ‘good enough’ for any child. If there’s some sort of manual out there for how to be a good role model, I haven’t found one that made any sense. When we found out you were a little girl, I was even more worried. I started thinking about Barbies and body images and impractical pink ruffle dresses. I thought about the opposite, thinking those things are shameful or embarrassing and avoiding them all with a hatred for anything feminine. I thought about how far away I was and how hard it was to grow up with no family nearby but my parents and nowhere to go to get a break from each other. I wondered if I was still too much of a child to be one of many adults you would need to help you grow.
Claire Olive, you are partially named after Claire, my grandmother. My clearest memory of her is the two of us sitting on a pier, dangling our bare feet in the water. She put her arm around me and showed me how to wiggle my feet so tiny fish would swim over and kiss our toes. I remember going for walks and watching her pick up a rock, right off the ground, crack it open with a hammer, and find a sparkling purple geode inside. I remember being much older and learning that the fish were actually trying to eat our toes, that Grandma had been planting geodes in the yard for us to “discover.”
Grandma Claire made magic where there wasn’t any and showed me how to look for it. The fish were just looking for food but she insisted they were kissing us, showed me how to tempt and bait them, laughed with me. She planted rocks in the yard but she showed me my first geode, sparkles and gems inside a dull, plain rock. She taught me to look for beauty in the simple because the simple can be the most beautiful.
I had so little time with her and she still made such an impact. This is what I want to be for you, a source of magic, a teacher and fellow explorer. It’s a tall order and maybe it will be hard work. I worried about that, too, about living up to the potential of the many wonderful women who make up our family, using all the lessons they’ve taught me to make you proud of your family. Like Great-Aunt Kim, who made my baby blanket - and in part, yours! Or Great-Grandma Judy who hated to cook but always made time for chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen, baking them together. Great-Great-Aunt Jess, who hosted every Memorial Day picnic and let us run wild around her yard, and today still volunteers at the Renaissance Faire with Great-Great Aunt Cindy as Potato Wenches. Great-Aunt Pam who always had a hug and a kiss and a pat on the back, any time, whenever you wanted, without question. All of our cousins, Michelle and Katie and Samantha and Natalie, who were - and are- so fun and playful and ready for adventure.
There are so many men in our family that are wonderful and admirable but I thought of the women and what they did that I wanted to mimic. You will have some experiences that only women do and I hope I can offer some sort of help and guidance to make these trials easier to bear, and the victories more fun to celebrate.
The day I first held you in my arms was terrifying. You were so small and so soft, so trusting as you relaxed in my arms just a minute after seeing me for the very first time. How could I answer that trust, how could I rise to the level that would let me deserve your rapt attention, your sudden love? Be there, be there, be there, but I am fifteen hundred miles away and might not ever be closer. It’s so much easier now than it used to be and you and I have Skyped several times, waving and laughing and reading through the computer. It’s still not quite the same, though, and I hate that, I worry about that. What about the first big fight you have with Mom and Dad? What if you need somewhere to go that isn’t home and you need more friendly-auntie love than gushing-grandparent love? What if you need me and I’m far away?
I still don’t have an answer, my little bear, but I think it’s okay so long as I keep worrying about it. So long as your needs and worries are up high on my list of priorities, I think we’re okay. I’ll come see you as much as I can and I’ll keep convincing your parents about the growth potential in visiting Kansas and we’ll Skype and email and Facebook and Instagram and whatever else the future holds for us. And when you fight with Mom and Dad, I will wait at the airport to pick you up to tempt fish and find geodes and bake cookies, until you’re ready to go home again.
Dear Claire, dear Claire, the world holds so much magic and adventure for you and you are running at it with wild abandon, laughing smiles, and very little balance control. Freewheel through life because, terrified or not, I will catch you whenever you ask, quickly rebalance you, and set you back on your feet so you can run all over again.
I am scared out of my mind and I hope I always am. It means I’ll keep trying my best to be good for you.
I want to protect you and care for you and applaud for you and cry with you. I want to offer warm hugs and crying shoulders, I want to be a spectator and a teacher and a cheerleader. I love you and I don’t ever want you to doubt what that means when I say it, how much I want you to grow and succeed and be so happy. I want every day to be magic, I want you to smash every rock with a hammer and find sparkling gems inside.
Happy birthday, Claire. This is a day of celebration for me as I watch you smile and laugh and discover the world, as I celebrate a year of success in doing pretty good at this auntie gig, because you are knocking this nieceling thing right out of the park.
Feliz cumpleaños, mi amor.