Every week, for a couple of days, I babysit my 19 month old niece Sadie while my younger sister Kristie and my brother-in-law, Clifton, work. We color, read, run around outside, play with the millions of toys I have overspent on, attempt and fail at finger painting, and go to Gymboree.
I have spoken about our bond before, but as she ages, our connection becomes more apparent, more intense, and more joyful. I can sense she sees me as a comfort, and as a friend, a playmate. Sometimes when she sees me walk into a room, she starts laughing, because she knows we're going to be silly together.
I believe that there's certain people on Earth that we are just in sync with, and you know it the first time you meet them. Well, I didn't know it the first time we met, because she was...uh...being born and busy gasping her first breath. And I was busy being grossed out.
But since she was about 9 months old, I have known our connection was different, in a way I can't always articulate. I don't feel like a mother, which is good, because Sadie has the best one you could possibly ask for. (Seriously, watching my sister morph from a grad student to a stay at home mom to a working mom who prioritizes her family and finds such joy in stress...it amazes me daily.)
And while I don't feel like a parent, I know that I am important to her. I think she would miss me if I disappeared or moved away for a long time. I didn't see her for a couple of weeks when I went to Hawaii, and when we reunited, she didn't say a word, just laid on my shoulder and stroked my back. My sister and I both had tears in our eyes.
For all the positive my relationship with my niece brings, I feel guilty about it sometimes, that I'm hogging her and possibly hurting my sister's feelings. But Sadie does not love my sister any less just because she loves me, too. Sadie has two amazing parents and does not need me the way a child needs a parent. She also has caring grandparents and an another kooky aunt and an Uncle Egg. She is loved and looked after by so many.
She gives me a reason to stick around, when every thought in my brain and pain in my body tells me to take myself out.
Recently, we moved Sadie into a queen bed with bed railings. My father, the paranoid gem of a man that he is, gets nervous that Sadie will fall out or manage to hurt herself. So, much to my delight, we take our midday nap together. (I know that I am 28 but whatever! i am a professional sick person!)
After at least six books, I sing to her and watch her eyes close and pop back open as she fights sleep. She really likes to be awake. Naps are for wimps, she thinks.
Lately, her 'tell' has been finding a piece of me to hold onto as she drifts off. For awhile it was my upper arm fat (thanks, Sades). Sometimes it's her two little fingers around my my earlobe.
One day last week, it was the tip of my nose and then my eyelid. I moved her sticky little hands off my face, praying I wouldn't wake her.
And I didn't. Instead, in the midst of her sleep, she found a way to curl her fingers around the small of my neck. She had a good hold on me, and her hand stayed there for the next hour as we napped our way into the sunny, sunny afternoon.
When we woke up, she was holding me, snuggled into my chin, her face slowly breaking into a smile.
"What do you want for lunch today?" I asked her.
Cookies? I'd lasso the moon and cover it in icing for you, kid.