The day I have been dreading for 12 years finally arrived last Tuesday. To be fair, it didnâ€™t arrive until about 10:15 AM, but I still blame Tuesday.
What happened at 10:15, you ask? Simply put, I stood at my youngest nieceâ€™s bedroom door and measured myself against the growth chart painstakingly recorded on her door jam.
Noel is taller than me.
To be fair this is not a difficult task. At 5â€™2â€ I am hardly an imposing figure that strikes fear in the hearts of many. The fact that I have been this height since 5th grade gives me a little freak factor, but Iâ€™ve spent my adult life as a fairly short person. (Please keep the laughter to a dull roar.) To my mind, the final nail in my tiny little coffin has always been Noelâ€™s height. I always thought the day she surpassed me would be worse for my self-esteem than turning 30.
Surprise, surprise: I was wrong. I did indeed experience a moment of self-deprecating laughter, but it was immediately followed by profound pride.
You see, Noel is terrific. She is smart but not afraid to work hard in a few ways I never quite learned. She is kind and genuinely cares about other people to an extent I canâ€™t even pretend to understand. She can run like a gazelle while I run like a penguin. She loves soccer and is genuinely good at the game, which are definitely two things that will never be said about me.
The list of differences continues. I grew up in a house full of boys while Noel grew up in a house full of girls. When I was her age I could do exactly two things with my long hair, one of which was leaving it completely alone. Noel can do all sorts of beautiful and stylish things with hers. My purse is a tiny black one that only holds the essentials. Noelâ€™s current purse is a hot pink number that I can only assume doubles as a suitcase. I basically wore whatever was clean to school. Noel looks like a million fashionable bucks every day. I was very shy and quiet, only confident when it came to academics. Noel is friendly, outgoing, and supremely confident.
In short, my niece is well on her way to being a far better person than I.
I currently have two nieces and two nephews and the count will continue to rise. The secret of being an aunt is that I want each one of them to be more. To be better. There is nothing I want more than for my nieces and nephews to grow up to be smarter, wiser, more athletic, and more successful than I. As large as my dreams and wishes are for myself they are exponentially larger for the next generation of Martinez munchkins.
I realize that this same phenomenon can turn ugly. It is the foundation of Little League Father Syndrome, after all. Most authority figure types want those in their charge to shine brightly; the catch is that we often add qualifiers. â€œI want my son to be the baseball player I couldnâ€™t be.â€ â€œI want my sons to take over the family business when Iâ€™m gone.â€ â€œI want my daughter to have the high-flying career I was denied.â€ Although these people have their childrenâ€™s best interests at heart such dreams also foster a lot of pressure and feelings of entrapment. Itâ€™s a pretty short hop from â€œI donâ€™t really like baseballâ€ to â€œDad wonâ€™t love me if I donâ€™t make it to the Majors.â€
I, for one, am unbelievably proud of my niece for following her passion for a sport that I donâ€™t personally enjoy. She consistently works on her game, attending summer camps and playing on competitive teams in her limited free time.Â Not only is she a better athlete in better shape than I can ever hope to be, she has a secure and confident identity based in her skills and abilities rather than her admittedly much better than average looks. And while I would have been happy never watching a soccer game, Noel has brought new experiences and learning into my life simply by following her own path rather than mine. Sure, one day I will take her to an Avalanche game and try to get the hockey seed planted somewhere in there, but not at the expense of the sport she loves. And if down the road she chooses to no longer play soccer I will be no less proud of her. As long as she continues to become a better, more balanced, and happier young woman I will be thrilled to call Noel my niece.
I hope each of you has a Noel in your life. If you donâ€™t, find one. As aggravating as kids can be, they are also an endless source of amazement, humor, and hope for a better world.
Especially if they belong to someone else.