When my nephew Christian was just learning to talk, I walked by him sitting in our kitchen with his Mama. He looked me in the eye and said, “Hi, Bee.” The nickname stuck. Most of my nieces and nephews call me Auntie Bee including the newest my 14-month-old niece Ellie.
Today, her mommy sent me a text saying that she and Ellie had the day off and when she asked Ellie what she wanted to do today, she said “Bee, Bee!”
Each of my nieces and nephews is special. Adam and Raine are both so smart. Adam, I love, for his perseverance and problem solving. If he wants something he goes to work figuring out how to get it and I have no doubt he will be successful in whatever venture he undertakes. He has promised me that when he grows up he will take care of me. “If you need it I’ll give you money,” he says. “If you don’t, I won’t bother.” Did I mention he is very practical? He shares my love of movies and knows as much Hollywood trivia as I do.
Raine has been serious since birth. He is gorgeous – a blue-eyed toe-head with an affable laugh and a mischievous smile. I love to talk to him and share his wealth of information. Once I took him on a special Auntie-Nephew outing to a book signing by Rick Riordan. He carried every hardcover Percy Jackson book with him to be signed. I gave him a $10 bill to buy some candy while I went to the bathroom and he spent all $10 and came out with bags of Peppermint Patties. Returning home high from sugar and adrenaline, he started an hour-long giggling fit, which of course was contagious. We drove red-faced and raucous through the night.
I am thoroughly convinced his seven-year-old brother Avery is an alien from another planet, observing us and reporting back to the mothership. He once told me I was correct and I’m not sure he was joking. Like his father, he carries music in his pores. He also has excellent rhythm, a freckled face, small stature, big-blue eyes, and a quiet, but deadly sense of humor.
Tori rounds out this trio of siblings. Five-years-old, she is powerhouse of imagination and fun. In looks, she is a throwback to an older time. Brown-haired, cherub-faced with rosebud lips, she is able to rumble with the boys and still be a girl. My grandmother Gifford, who spoiled me with handmade dresses that I would don with a cowboy hat and gunbelt, would have loved her. In her zest for life and fondness for fun, Tori reminds me of me. The other day my parents picked her up from school and took her downtown to buy some milk. “I love buying milk,” she exclaimed. They then took her to get the mail, “I love getting the mail,” she said. Apparently, life is just a good time to her.
My eight-year old niece, Catherine, Adam’s sister, is a beautiful clown. She’s gorgeous and kooky and the world does cartwheels around her when she erupts in a fit of bubbling giggles. I love to take her on shopping sprees and see her twirl and model her dresses. She used to pose and model for me while I snapped her picture, but has become increasingly self-conscious. Every once and awhile she’ll still accommodate me. A couple of weeks ago when her cousins were up from Texas, she knew I wanted to take pictures so she showed up at the restaurant where we were meeting having done all their makeup and wearing a get-up she called “Funky Fashionable.” When I asked her if I was funky fashionable as well, she declared, “No, just funky!”
This strange little tribe comprises my best friends. When the family is around, I can often be found with the little ones – photographing them, teasing them, making up stories. I have been blessed by sisters-in-law willing to let me share in their lives.
In the case of the eldest and the youngest, Christian and Ellie, I have been blessed with something more – a chance to fill a void left by not having children of my own. When Christian was just a baby -- his parents, my youngest brother, Paul, and his then girlfriend Chesne, only high-school students – his mother came and dropped him off in his car seat for me to babysit. She has been letting me share him ever since. Christian grew up at our house, coming here every other weekend and on vacations. I tucked him in each night, after he had drifted off to the television and watched as the Beanie Babies he took to bed turned to Lego men and Star Wars figures and eventually i-pod, laptop computer and Doritos, his interests growing alongside his body. I still go to his room to clear the remnants away once he is sleeping. Chesne named me his godmother and gave me the opportunity to mother him alongside her and his Nana. Sometimes at night, he will tuck his lanky, broad-shouldered body alongside mine on the sofa and we will talk and watch scary movies together. He can’t be 17 already.
My sister-in-law Gretchin and my brother Mark have a picture of the three of us that used to hang in their dining room. They took it down to make room for a painting and left it on the floor where it would be at Ellie’s eyelevel. Since she was born, they have pointed at the photograph and at me saying, “Auntie Bee,” ensuring that she could not help but know who I am. And, so on a day like today, she says it herself, “Bee, Bee!”
I look at Ellie’s big brown eyes, the tilt of her face and I see what could have been – my little girl. And, instead of feeling blue, I smile, because her mother graciously says, “She looks like you.” She says this not once, but again and again, as if Ellie herself is a secret we share.