A niece is a gift whose worth cannot
be measured except by the heart.
Unbelievably, 27 years have passed since I cradled my first niece, Heather, in my arms. She was five days old when we met, and my sister, Laurie, had come to L.A. for the wedding of one of her best friends. Since Grandma had a Christmas party, and Laurie had a wedding rehearsal to attend, I was the designated babysitter. I was in the middle of college finals, but gazing at this small perfect being with pale blonde fuzz atop her head was the best excuse NOT to study. I was ecstatic to be an aunt.
We were doing quite well until Heather developed a terrifying case of hiccups, her small body violently convulsing. I called my friend, Vickie, the able mother of two, to ask if I needed to phone a doctor. “Lay her on your stomach and rub her back,” she said, amused at the panic in my voice over hiccups. So we stretched out and a wave of calm moved through her, and then me. We fell asleep. When I awoke, I realized we had just shared one of those perfect moments in my life–I fell head-over-heels in love with her then and there.
As Heather grew into babyhood, she was even more of a joyful marvel. There is a photo of her, arms rapidly flapping–we called it “the hummingbird picture,” because it seemed as if she was about to take flight from sheer delight. It was because of Heather that I fell in love with my ex-husband, Mark (I will not hold that against her, because I have Kate). He was amazing with Heather. I can still see their heads bobbing in his Mazda Rx7 as rock music blared from the car. It was a week before her first birthday, and she was enamored of this tall guy who treated her like an equal. He, of course, was equally smitten. Later, at a family dinner, her doting Grandpa (who was usually the apple of Heather’s eye), asked, annoyed, “What does she see in him?”. It was pretty comical.
When Heather was nearly three, she spent three weeks with us. Mark and Heather had taken an excursion to the LA County History Museum. They were having a wonderful time until Heather wanted to see one exhibit, and Mark a different one. Toddler Heather slammed to the floor to have a tantrum, and 24-year old Mark joined her to throw his own fit. They were asked to leave and never return. By the time they got home and regaled me with their he-said, she-said stories of who was to blame for their banishment, I had to separate them like warring siblings. It was short-lived because they wanted to be with one another more than they wanted to stand in rightful indignation.
At the end of that stay, my heart broke. I cried for three days and said, “I want one I don’t have to give back.” Six weeks later, I was pregnant with my daughter–after being told for four years I couldn’t conceive. Whenever someone who is struggling to conceive asks me what I did to thwart the doctor’s bleak prognosis, I tell them to borrow a child they really love–that’s all I did. My bursting heart, so overflowing with love, magically eroded all of nature’s obstacles. It was through first loving Heather–and later, her sister, Brittany–that the yearning to become a mother proved stronger than any seeming physical limitations.
Here we are, 27-years later: I am reflecting on that small girl’s tiny hand grasping my finger, asleep on my chest, her sweet heart and bright smile, her fierce protectiveness of her mom and sister, her curiosity, creativity, and beautiful spirit. The years have stretched between us and I long for the days when the girls were small and spent weeks with us during summer vacations that ended too soon. I think of all the long soulful talks we’ve shared. I think of the lullabies sung, the goodnight kisses, the art projects, the family outings, the meals shared, and sadly, watching from too far of a distance as she grew into a remarkable young woman.
Now, I see my beautiful nieces on Facebook, their lives unfolding on the web. I see those two lovely reflections of my beloved sister, sharing Heather’s birthday–their radiance a more mature reflection of the small girls who first owned my heart. What I wouldn’t give for a time machine to take us back to simpler times when it was easier to gather us all together and share events that matter.
My darling, Heather, I hope you are having the happiest of birthdays and that the year that stretches ahead fulfills all your dreams. I will love you, always. — Aunt Linda