My niece, Natty, is an incredible little girl. From that first moment when I held her and looked into her big, baby blue eyes, I knew life was changing. I felt older - more certain and paradoxically more uncertain about life than I had ever been. As I cradled her in my arms, a fierce pride swelled my heart while a new humility simultaneously melted it into a pool of wonder, reflecting everything in the world that had ever been for me and had yet to be for her.
I wondered. Who will she be? What will she do? How can I help her?
Now she is 4 and closing in on 5 (more quickly than I would allow if I got to be in charge of Time). Her personality is growing faster than her arms and legs (and she's tall!).
I don't get to see her as often as I would like since we have about 65 miles of roads between us. Every time we are reunited I am amazed by her growth, even if it has only been a few weeks since I saw her last.
I was sitting on the couch at my Mom's house on Saturday when Natty came in the door. She was a whole room away and barely through the door when I heard her addressing me and saying something about the orange cat. Her chatter made me laugh. I had not seen her for a couple weeks, but she was chatting away like she had just left the room for a moment.
Early evening found us outside, armed with tiny containers of bubbles, surrounded by the warm buzz of late summer. Natty skipped over to the swing my Dad had installed. Awed by her ability to skip in flip-flops, I winced as she narrowly missed tree roots and large, pointed sticks.
I blew tiny bubbles up in the air so they floated down on her as she pumped her legs in the air. She tried to pop them with her toes and giggled every time she got one.
"This looks like an enchanted forest," I mused, almost to myself.
"What do you mean, Siggy?" Natty had slowed her swing, her face inquisitive.
I had been thinking about my own childhood while echoes of summers-past filled my mind, but I wasn't sure how to explain to her that I was unearthing sepia-colored ghosts. My own hours spent on swings, oblivious to insect bites, summer sweat and the passing of time.
I went in another direction. "Oh, maybe like sparkly fairy dust could just float down on us at any moment," I answered.
Natty's eyes doubled in size, "And turn us into Fairy Princesses?!"
"Yes!" I was delighted. "Do we wear dresses now, Natty? What color are they?"
"Mine is sparkly, pink and blue. You wear blue, Siggy."
"Do we have pets? Like maybe frogs?"
"Nooooo... they're horses! And know what? They have wings! Yes, they're unicorns...with wings."
"Wings? Great idea! Well, now we can go wherever we want. Where shall we go?"
Natalie pauses for just a moment. "I know. We will go some place...a place we never been before!"
I nod in agreement. I think to myself that a Princess should always have adventure in her life.
"And know what, Aunt Siggy? We could go to the North Pole!? And see SANTA!?"
I'm giggling at this point. I recall telling a hardware store Santa one year that I wanted to go back with him to the North Pole and become an Elf. He told me I was too tall. I wonder what Natty would think of that.
"Natalie? You seem like you're about the same height as an Elf. I think you would fit in quite well in the North Pole. I may be too tall. Where would I sleep?"
Natty loves a good problem to solve. "I know, we'll just stay for one day. We'll tell them we can't spend the night." The wheels are still turning though and then, "I KNOW, we still have fairy dust. We'll turn our horses into floating beds!"
"You are a good problem-solver! I'm glad I get to travel with you."
Natalie became quiet again, swinging and looking at nothing in particular. I began to think that maybe she had moved on and we had exhausted her attention span for this story.
"Aunt Siggy? None of this would really come true, would it?" I couldn't tell if she was disappointed or maybe thought Aunt Siggy needed to be reminded that we can't really have flying unicorns.
I decide not to underestimate her or be the dorky adult who says, "Of course it can come true!"
"Natalie, I'm glad you know the difference between 'real' and 'pretend.' It is fun to pretend and use our Imagination though. You know, that's what Grammy does when she writes her books; she uses her Imagination to make stories."
She considers this. "Okay Siggy, We could make this story. You write it and I'll make the pictures. And know what?"
"I think we could even put real sparkles in the book. And know what? We could give every kid the book for free."
"Natalie, you have the best ideas. I love you."
"I love you too, Aunt Siggy."