A masterpiece or a monster?
That is the running joke between my sister, Caitlyn, and me in reference to the fact that her daughter–my niece–is now a full blown teenager. She uses it as a greeting when I answer her midday phone calls, “Masterpiece or monster?,” prefacing the latest trial to arise in the treacherous terrain of parenting an adolescent girl.
Generally I laugh, reminding her that this is biology’s way of ensuring that when it’s time for Reagan to leave the nest in a few short years they will be ready to let her fly, likely even give her an initiative nudge. Despite the time spent reassuring my sister that they will all survive the teen years intact (Reagan included) I somehow thought that as her aunt I would be exempt from her teenage derision.
Reagan made me an aunt, the title that I love most in the world, with the exception of mother. She was our “first” baby and while Corey and I were gifted the role of “Aunt and Uncle” five more times after, she is our only girl, and probably more than a little spoiled because of it–though in reality, we try to take the role of spoiling all of them very seriously. That is probably one of the best things about nieces and nephews: that your sole job is to love them, to be in their corner and cheer them on.
I am lucky enough to live near my sister’s children so I get to be a regular fixture in their lives and interact with them on an almost daily basis. I witnessed the chubby-cheeked baby transform into a wild-haired toddler obsessed with princess dresses and puppy-dog stuffies. I was there for the Harry Potter phase, when she drew lightning bolts on her forward and commandeered her Poppies psychedelic, bachelorhood wall hangings to use as an invisibility cloak. I watched the strong-willed, inquisitive girl slowly meld into a fierce advocate, giving up her mornings to accompany Glenn to group therapy camps, volunteering her evenings to help at TASC and even putting me in my place when I faltered at the suggestion that I let her take him to VBS this summer. Each of these phases, slowly chipping away her childishness and revealing the woman she will someday become. Through it all she was a self-proclaimed “Auntie’s Girl.”
And then it happened. I was leaving the office one Friday afternoon tired and disheveled from a long week of work, committee meetings and the breakneck pace of mothering young children–running to and from evening activities, packing lunches and practicing sight words, folding the endless amounts of laundry and wiping countless spills and tears. I imagine my cardigan was askew and my too curly hair amuck from my nervous habit of running my hands through it when I think. I looked up from locking the door behind me and there she was walking down main street with her group of friends, most of whom I know. “Aunt Tori,” she said in the familiar squeal of excitement at my presence and started to jog toward me. Suddenly, in what felt like slow-motion, I was given a birds-eye view of my “aunt pedestal” toppling. She got about a foot in front of her friends and then halted abruptly, bringing herself to a complete stop until she fell back in line with her peers. Then, with all the arrogance of puberty she walked right past me, giving me little more than an elbow nudge in passing, not even bothering to look at my face.
I stood motionless, my brain unable to register the social scene unfolding before me. I was being slighted by this tiny human I helped to raise. I wanted to yell after her. To remind her that I changed her diapers and spent countless hours playing Strawberry Shortcake and Nurse Detectives with her, about all of the recitals and tumbling meets I sat through, the concoctions I choked down in her early days of practicing her latte-making skills, of the $20 I gave her only a week before, just because she wanted to go to a movie with her friends. As I stood there, resisting the urge to yell after her hastily retreating form while brandishing the folded up newspaper in my hand, I realized that I too had fallen under the scornful gaze of our now teenager and been found lacking. I too am embarrassing.
This time my sister got to laugh when I relayed the interaction to her, reminding me that it was all a part of life’s process of preparing us to let her go. A masterpiece or a monster? Time will tell, but either way she is fantastic.
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