When I look into my niece's eyes, I see the innocence and promise of someone who's never had her heartbroken, someone who could cure cancer, move mountains, and change the world. When I see my niece play, I observe her attention to detail, and her desire to make everything just right, a future perfectionist.
When I hear my niece speak, I hear the assertion in her little voice, as if her 2-and-a-half-year-old self-knows better than the rest of us (she probably does). When I hold my niece in my arms I can feel her confidence and trust in me, knowing I won't let her fall. How lovely would it be to believe in people like that again, I think to myself. How lovely would it be to never be afraid to fall?
I was always the youngest of the family, always the first to get to open a present on Christmas, always the one being taken care of. I grew used to my spoiled little lifestyle, but the day I learned I wasn't going to be the baby anymore, my attitude shifted. Someone else was going to get to open up the first present on Christmas. Someone else was going to be the one getting taken care of. I was never sad about gaining a new family member, just apprehensive about the roles in our family shifting (I'm not big on change).
The day she was born changed everything for me. I had no idea I could love someone I just met, so much, so fast. It was like the second I looked at her, I knew what it meant to love unconditionally. Holding her was enough to make any sadness or pain I was keeping in my heart just float away. Love is without a doubt the best medicine.
I see the way she looks at me, how excited she gets when I come over to see her, or if I bring her a present. She tells me I'm her best friend and always compliments my makeup or my jewelry. She makes me want to be the best version of myself possible. It's a terrifyingly awesome thing when you can do no wrong in someone else's eyes. I desire to be the person she thinks I am.
There's a lot that can be learned from a little girl in cowboy boots and a macaroni-and-cheese-stained dress. They know a lot more than we think they do. They listen. They absorb. Their characters are shaped by the hands used to hold them, feed them, raise them. So give them all the cookies and kisses they want. Squeeze their hands tight while walking into the store and always make time for one more bedtime story.
I often wonder how she'll remember me. One day, after she's ditched the pigtails, and she's traded her Barbie dolls and sippy-cup of milk for a set of car keys and an iced coffee. What will she think of her Aunt Zo? What memories will she remember the most? I never want her to look back and say "I wish we were closer." or "I wish I knew her better." Being an aunt or an uncle is just about one of the coolest roles you can play, so I've gladly relinquished my title of "baby of the family" to the little blessings my sisters keep popping out.