My eldest niece Rebecca is 14 and a half. I adore her. Before I had my own children, I referred to her as “my firstborn.” Now she is my first teenager.
Although she is a special child, in some ways she is a typical teen – she prefers to sleep until afternoon; she texts while websurfing while IMing six friends; and, most significantly for an aunt who misses her, she spends more time with friends than her family.
But yesterday we had the joy of being with her for the better part of an afternoon and evening. (We’ve had a great three days and nights with niece Noa, who is still not too cool for us.) It took drastic measures to get Rebecca back into the fold; we leave town for two months tomorrow, and she wanted to be with us.
Rebecca is four years older than Noa and Aaron; eight years older than Emmett. In the recent past, I’ve noticed that when they are all together, she opens up a younger self. This is a good thing. It takes the pressure off a beautiful girl who, like her mother before her, can be mistaken for an older teen. (As she mentioned yesterday: “Thanks for the Penn shirt, Lala. This guy just asked me if I went there!” Oh no!) When she is with her younger sibling and cousins, I’ve seen her engage in water fights like a ten-year-old boy, and trampoline like a six-year-old.
(The transitive property of age goes both ways; the soon-to-be high schooler’s desire for a Henna tattoo transferred to a shark on her soon-to-be first grader cousin’s wrist.)
But yesterday, instead of this glorious temporary reverting, I felt her growing nurturing and maturity. She laughed at Emmett’s sense of humor from the distance of an adult finding him adorable, not as a kid sharing the raw humor. She is growing up.
Further evidence of her maturity, I suppose, is that she wanted to be with us. Although it wasn’t any part of our reason for taking an extended trip, I am thrilled by this happy byproduct. The prospect of our leaving, of losing us temporarily, made her want to be with us. We all know this truism: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” Yet it is our natural state to take things for granted. I do it all the time.
So we travel. We leave. We shake things up. We do it not only to see places that are different than where we live, to know the world holds many wonders. We do it to remind us of what we have at home, the sparkly laugh of a teenage girl who might on occasion grant us the pleasure of a summer afternoon.