( !! Fair Warning – this one is a long one !! )
Was feeling a little nostalgic for the days and all the years gone by earlier…then this happened…
My oldest niece, Angelina, will be fourteen in April and all I can think is what the hell. It can’t be. It feels like it was just yesterday that I was kneeling on the living room floor, arms outstretched, stomach in knots and a lump in my throat as I held back the tears and watched her take those first few shaky steps towards me. So fourteen—it can’t be, and yet I’ve known it from that very moment on that she was going to be unstoppable. And she hasn’t let proven me wrong yet. She’s so smart and funny and sweet—and even when she’s being an absolute brat, I still love her to pieces. I really do. And while I’m so proud of the young woman that she’s becoming…part of me just wants to scoop her up in my arms and never let her go. To keep her thirteen forever –minus all the teenage angst and attitude, of course. It’s a silly wish, I know, but I wish it nonetheless. I just feel like if I blink, I’ll wake up and it’ll be the day she takes her road test, or her graduation day, or the day we send her off to college, or god forbid—her wedding day. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping she waits awhile on that last one. It’s not that I don’t want her to get married or anything. I do. Of course, I do. I just want her to take her time getting there, that’s all.
I want her to have some fun first…to go out with her friends and enjoy being an adult for a little while. Granted being an adult can be absolutely frustrating and just plain hell at times, but there are some perks—some advantages to be young and dumb AND legal. I want her to take a semester abroad and travel the world – to know that there’s so much more out there for her to see, explore, and experience – OUTSIDE of this little town. I want her to fly to all those places she’s seen/sees in the magazines and that she’s dreamt/dreams about visiting someday. She’s got that stubborn personality, that impulsive, independent, and recklessness about her—always has—that I recognize all too well. She’s not mine—I didn’t give birth to her—and yet, she’s like a miniature carbon copy of myself. I’m not so sure if that’s a good or bad thing yet…but time will tell.
What I truly want more than anything else for her…is for her to find love. I want her to fall in love, be it just the one time…or more than once. I want her to find a guy that doesn’t just tell her that he loves her…he proves it over in spades. I want her to find a guy that treats her right—one who doesn’t hold her back, step on her dreams, or put out that fire in her beautiful brown eyes. I want her to know excitement and to feel those little butterflies flapping their little wings around inside her—the kind that steals her breath and makes the rest of the world disappear. I want her to know love; to know that she IS worthy and deserving of that love. I want her to know the kind of selfless, all-in love that doesn’t leave her yearning for more or left out in the cold. While I don’t relish seeing her hurt, I want her to know heart-break. It’s not being harsh, it’s being practical and simple: You can’t fight, understand, or avoid something that you’ve never experienced. I want her to get her heart broken at least once, to experience that soul-crushing devastation that leaves you crying on your bathroom floor and wondering if any of it was even worth it. It’s hard—those life lessons you have to both live and learn from—because they’re lessons that we all – her included – must learn on our own. You have to walk and go through Hell to get to Heaven, as the saying goes, with love especially. And she’ll have those moments of weakness where she’ll do anything to make the pain go away…to just give up and throw it all away. But she’ll get through it and come out the other side a hell of a lot smarter – and a little less naïve—because of it. She’ll look and she’ll find that untapped strength and determination that makes my strengths look puny. I know she will. I don’t want her to have to live with the same regrets we all live through (for me, at least) when we put ourselves in situations that we’re set up to lose right from the very beginning when we fall for the wrong person. But if she does have them, I don’t want her to let those mistakes and regrets consume or define who she is. I want her to learn from the experience—good or bad—so she knows what and how to avoid repeating them down the road. Moreover, I want her to know that love isn’t perfect. Rather, it’s flawed with both good and bad. I want her to know that love doesn’t always work out—no matter the effort you and/or he might put in trying to save it and to make it work. I want her to learn to fight for what she wants—and to live her life the way she chooses, instead of listening to and letting everyone else live her life FOR her. I want her to never lose that free and independent spark of hers.
I want her to know that she shouldn’t and doesn’t need a guy to define or complete her. She’s better than that. I want her to stand strong, and fall apart, too (if that’s what it takes). I don’t want her to be embarrassed or ashamed by her feelings or emotions…or feel guilty or like she has to echo those three little words just because he’s ready and she isn’t; or because he says it and/or feels it and she doesn’t. I want her to keep that sparkle and light in her eyes, and to avoid the men that will put that fire and shine of hers out. I want her to know that she doesn’t have to stay…that she can leave at any point. I don’t want her to stay in a relationship that isn’t working because she feels she has to or that it’s expected of her…or because she’s afraid that people will judge her or condemn her choices or attack her sexuality and call her derogatory names because she’s moved on with someone else. I want her to know that the double standards on men sleeping around opposed to women having more than one sexual partners. As women, we hate it—but it is what it is, for now at least. I want her to know that she can try everything…to defend or hell, explain herself until she’s blue in the face…and there will always be that one person (if not others) that will be determined to tear her down with all their cruel assumptions and accusations and insults…but that she can’t let their negativity or their miserableness get in the way of HER happiness. There are just some people that are like that. You can try to understand it, but you’ll never succeed. That’s life. That’s people. You just have to take it with a grain of salt…or tequila, preferably.
I want to tell her to try her best to live only in the present. For her to know that it’s okay to forget, move on, and put the past behind her… and to not worry so much about what the future might bring. I want her to focus on all the moments—the good, the bad, the big, and the little ones. I want her take risks, to tests the limits, toe the lines, dream big, and fly high. So very, very high. But more than anything else, I just want her to be happy. Whether it’s in her work and the career she eventually chooses, or a lifestyle and hobbies, or finding the right guy—the one she thinks she could potentially see a “forever” with, standing side by side, both worthy and EQUAL in EVERY way. The deck is already stacked unfairly against her because she hasn’t had the best female role models in her life. My mother and my grams have had custody of her since she was 6 months old. Neither her mother or my brother have been around her very much. My brother’s been doing better and he’s been around more these last few years, but it doesn’t negate all the time that he should have been, and wasn’t. As for her mother, that woman is all over the place. Including my niece, she has 5 kids with 4 different fathers. She’s constantly going from one loser to the next. In the past few years, I think she’s been “engaged” like 3 times—with different people. She doesn’t even have her other 4 kids…and the youngest one is barely a year old. My nephew lives in the boonies with her mother, and the others are each with their respective fathers or relatives of the father. How you can feel no shame in coming and going in and out of your children’s lives, letting others raise and care for them…is a mystery to me. She likes to say that she’s settled down…but she’s a little off on the definition of “settled down” I think. She might not party as hard as she used to, but if she really had cleaned up her act as she claims to have, then she’d be a mother to her kids. But she’s not. I know it bothers my niece that her parents aren’t around a whole lot—she’s at that age—just as I was—when I really started to wonder where my father was and why he wasn’t in my life. I’m sure she’s wondering the same. She plays it cool, but you can tell it bothers her. It took me a long time–even longer to accept—before I finally came to the realization that people are where they want to be. If they love you and really care, they’d move mountains to be there, with you. But some moms and dads are just wired wrong and missing that maternal/paternal instinct. It’s not always entirely their fault, I know. But even so, the majority of the blame is on them.
They’re the ones that brought you into this cruel, unforgiving world and for –essentially—abandoning the kid at the world’s door step. My mother was like that—still is, in fact. With my mother, men always came/come first and my brother, sister, and I second. She hasn’t changed at all over the years. My niece’s mother is like that. What’s sad is that I know what my niece is going through…how she’s feeling. Like myself, she knows how to put on a convincing front and pretend that everything is great—even when it’s not. Same as her, I tend to keep people from getting too close—mostly because I’ve blindly put my trust in people I shouldn’t have…and it almost always ends up coming back to bite me in the ass—some way, somehow. Always. Without fail. Admittedly, my method isn’t the healthiest of coping methods as far as coping methods go, but it works for me. Shutting down and shutting people out is what I do best—but then again, I’ve spent all these years perfecting the art of deflection. That, and leaving. I’m used to people leaving. People always leave. And the unspoken pain that goes along with it. I know she has to find out for herself that life isn’t always fair…and that some people really suck. I’ve been in her shoes. And when the time comes for her (which it most certainly will) I want to be there to reassure her and remind her of that “this too, shall pass” adage and whatnot. I didn’t have the amazing, loving support system that she has when I was her age. I didn’t have anyone really — my family was busy, distracted and just plain clueless to notice me, let alone offer any reassurance or protection from the dangers of the big, bad, old world out there. It was just me. No one else. And it was fucking hard. And it still is at times. I want my niece to experience and eventually learn for herself that life isn’t all puppies and rainbows. Sometimes, life really, really, REALLY sucks. Unfortunately, there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it. You don’t have options, you have a choice…and it isn’t always an easy choice to make, no matter how right it may or may not feel or be. I want her to know that it’s okay if she doesn’t have a 5-year-plan or know just yet exactly what she wants to do in life or who she wants to be. She might not see it—in fact, I’m sure she doesn’t. After all, I was a 13-year-old kid myself once upon a time, and contrary to what she’s convinced herself of and loves to remind me, that wasn’t all that long ago. And I’m not as old as she makes me out to be. Hell, I’m not even 30, but the way she talks about my age, you’d think I was ancient or something. That’s my mean. She’s such a brat. A spectacular one, but still…a brat.
I’d give her the world if I could. That is, I can’t give her ALL of it. I can at least give her some of it. Even at that, it seems a small consolation—if it’s any consolation at all. All things considered. And I’ll be honest, just the thought of her growing up in this hot mess that we call the world – well, it scares the living shit out of me. I know the day will come when she won’t need me to always be here—and even though it’s going to absolutely break my heart when that moment comes—there’s not going to be any postponing…on any level. It’s going to happen. She’s going to grow up. She’s going to leave to find herself, and along with it– the answers to all the questions she’s always had or may have down the road.
Only 4 more years. Four short years that are probably going to be some of the last I have with her…you know, before she gets bit by that travel bug, marries someone, and has little ones of her own. I can’t stop her from growing up, but I can give her the advice and encouragement she might need one day, that she’ll need on that day—when she takes flight and doesn’t look back—for the most part—only forward and straight ahead. I know that she’s going to be amazing because she’s already amazing. And beautiful. And talented. She’s sassy and one-of-a-kind…she’s going to be an incredible human being, that’s for sure – more than she already is and that I could ever imagine. And I’ll be her greatest fan, truest friend, and her loudest cheerleader—always. One thing I know for sure is that she’s always going to my Little Bean (my nickname for her) no matter how old she is and gets to. 13 or 33…she’s still ours. For now, I just hope she realizes the value of being careful and sure cognizant of her vulnerabilities AND of time. She’s too young yet to know just how quickly time passes and that it all goes a hell of a lot faster than she’s even probably aware right now. If I can, I want to be someone she can look up to, that she trusts…and trust isn’t something that grows overnight. It takes time, not just to build that trust, but to cultivate it and allow it the time it needs to reach its maximal and greatest potential. On that same coin, however, life really can happen in the blink of an eye. If you take too much advantage of something or someone, if you’re not watching or you aren’t careful enough…you can miss some of the very best parts, without meaning to. And that would be an absolute, damn shame.
So in tribute to my Little Bean (who’s not so little anymore) and the little girl that stole my heart 13 some odd years ago in seconds … I just hope she keeps on dancing. My wish for her is to find all the happiness in the world and all the opportunities this crazy, beautiful, frustrating world has to offer. She makes me proud to be her aunt. I’m the lucky one. Truly. I hope that when life gets hard, she just remembers what I’ve told her since she was little…
Never question fate or ask why…
And never, ever be afraid to fall