Of all the things that I am to so many different people, I don’t believe I’ve mentioned the little fella for whom I play my favorite role as aunt.
I’m sitting with Oliver, my 15 month old nephew, in the back of my sister’s Explorer—-him along with his two best buddies, Dog and Bear, his ever present stuffed animals. We’re on the road to visit family in Maryland and so far we’ve watched three Veggie Tales (covering our eyes at the parts featuring the scary bear), learned how to high five, dined on peanut butter fudge and a box of Goldfish, and learned that headphones are to be inserted in the ears and not shoved into the eyes.
He’s such an intelligent little booger. He's the only one year old I know who can start any technological device; knows exactly how to turn on the DVD player or radio and probably an MP3 player if any of us were willing to risk giving him a try. Everything that he does seems to be deliberate and strategic. He stares at me with a studious gaze, leaving me to wonder what goes through his little mind. I laugh when he takes his pacifier out to jabber something and then pops it back in. The pacifier seems as out of place on his munchkin face as it would on a teenager's.
Since I live over 500 miles away, I’ve only spent about two out of his fifteen months with him. Summer and Christmas breaks are the only time I can manage to get home. So when I’m here, I spend as much time with him as I can.
I came home for Christmas a week ago not having seen him in five months. When my sister opened the door, Oliver in her arms, I was amazed not at his size or at his adorable smile but at his hair which has morphed from fine baby silk into little boy coarseness. He’s growing up so fast.
It always hurts me when I come back and hold out my arms only to have him recoil to his mommy, shooting cautious glances at me. I can’t blame him—-to him I’m just a woman who looks a lot like his mom but isn’t her; a person who appears and disappears every so often, sticking around just long enough to remain a faint memory in the back of his mind.
Because it’s been a while since I was around a baby for an extended amount of time, I watch him as if he were an exotic pet. When he toddles through the house, when he meticulously loops his little finger in the silk ribbon around Bear’s neck, when he plays airplane with his chicken nuggets, when he jabbers incoherently about his sippy cup, when he spins himself around until he gets dizzy, when he laughs at nothing, as if angels are whispering secrets in his ear, I watch, fascinated and absorbed, as if I’m watching a pet octopus play with a ball.
I’ve discovered all of his tickle spots—under his chin, the bottoms of his little feet, the insides of his legs. Learned his language—caca for cat and ghee ghee for dog along with his various other grunts and body language. I’ve identified his love for Goldfish and sweets and his gag-inducing disdain for deviled eggs and soda.
We just got back in the car from going in to get a drink at a gas station. When I asked him if he wanted to go in with me, he reached out his little arms, unsuspicious, almost fondly. I was happy for the moment to be holding his squooshy little body, kissing his fluffy cheeks, guiding his little arms through his jacket sleeves, feeding him Goldfish, and playing peek-a-boo with his blanket; but I’m sad that in one week he’ll wave goodbye and I’ll vanish back into his undeveloped memory. He’s learning so much these days, he hardly has room to retain the memory of an aunt who is rarely ever around, does he?
Little man, I hope that you always keep a place in your heart for me.