I am in love with my niece. She turns three tomorrow and I get to celebrate her birthday with her. I saw her just at Christmas, and although that was not the first time we have met, it is the first time she remembers meeting me. For weeks she has been exploding with anticipation, when "my Christine" will come to see her again. We are staying with my sister, who has just transplanted across country to be near the niece and nephew. She had long, deep roots in Vermont, but decided it was time to go where her heart really lived. I am thrilled, it is a win win win for us all. She is nearer to them, they get to have another family member in their lives, and she is closer to me. I get to see everyone in one visit, the trip is easy and affordable to do a few times a year.
I think my niece is the buddha, somedays. Fiercely intelligent and verbally skilled well past kids several years her senior, there is a deep and soulful sensitivity with her. I stand in awe. Now, I get those moments messaged to my phone, as she discovers life and it discovers her right back. Sensitive to animals and children and inaminate objects around her, she will set you straight when you just don't get it. And then burst out laughing.
My sister's new place overlooks Sausalito and is a nice transition to the Marin side of the bay, a short jaunt over the bridge to see the family, but just not as urban. We are surrounded by trails into the headlands: the raptors circle overhead, catching thermals; owls hoot at night; crows cross by day; turkey vultures swoop and dive; marina sounds ring in the distance.
Today we had a date with our niece, and decided to visit Japantown for a new adventure. A treat for all, as she gets to visit with her two aunties and uncle- without her parents- and see places and faces that are new to her. She has already forged a deep bond with my sister's dog, the joy in each other's faces as they greet each other is just sheer bliss. We were a troop of five.
She stunned me, again, with her poise and charm.
My niece is a headturner, blonder than blond, and a smile that radiates light to all around, usually with her head tilted back full dimple smile and laughing. She is not unlike my sister this way. Pair her up with a King Charles Spaniel, and strangers will cross the room to say hello. The two appear to be speaking a special language, whispering in each other's ears. Old people watch in delight, this little bundle of fire and spirit and mirth who has managed to master the secret to happiness so early in life. I watch her and I talk to her. She listens, sometimes talks back, and other times sits there quietly, taking it all in. We are good to talk, and good to not talk, a sigh and a pet of her hand can say so much more than words. Today was no different, and I find myself wondering how she can be so much more.... evolved.... than most kids I know of any age, and half the adults I run into on a daily basis. Of course, we all want to feel this way about our family, somehow, everyone feels this way when they meet her.
We took went out for lunch, seated at a japanese restaurant. Thoughtful, still, well behaved, she quietly ate everything in front of her, trying a little bit of it all. She can talk a blue streak, but prefers to eat her food in more silence than chat. Thrilled that there were no food allergy bogeymen to worry about, she neatly sampled all the foods with delight. I introduced her to miso soup, showing her how to swish the bowl and sip from it. This excited her, and her little hands swooshed the bottom and tipped it up just so, not a spill. I introduced her to chopsticks, feeding her bits of salad and teriyaki chicken, with giggles of joy as the sticks brought food to her face. She tried herself and managed to get a little more in. I introduced her to tempura and daikon and udon, all things she slurped up with delight, so happy to be included without reservation. I haven't enjoyed eating with anyone else's children in years: the throwing of the food, the yelling and screaming, the wails of complaint and rejection, the crying and running around the restaurant and the toys. She had none of that in her, eating carefully, dropping little. I beamed with pride at my sister, our brother and sister in law have done so wonderfully. My sweetie was thrilled, to be around such a pleasant child. She trusts him now, and lets him hold her hand and help with the car seat.
I helped her pick out a treat for herself, some hair ties with little panda heads on them- in a few colors. She let me put them in, and then beamed with pride over her new treasure. Still, she didn't forget "my seal", the small toy she was allowed to bring on her trip, and made sure seal got put in a safe place, and later retrieved for the car ride home. I remember how thoughtful she had been of her doll Margot at Christmas (since replaced by the living love of a dog), always keeping track of naps, feedings and diaper changes. Tomorrow she is three, but really light years older than us all.
The Oryoki Gifts
Just before we left, I sprinted through a few japanese "stuff" stores, getting little treasures for our future lunches. Learning chopsticks, a little bowl for soup or rice and a panda bear mug. We have so much to do together, she has so much still to show me, I have so much still to see through her eyes. She is my life and my love, my blood and my spirit, my future and my happiness. This tree of life, still small in stature, has spread her roots deep into me, and has branched out through my heart.