I met my niece Lauryn in the summer of 2004. I wasn’t expecting any more pleasant surprises at the time; I was enjoying quite a bounty already. I had resumed lucrative employment at the Captain Cook in April and was having a blast. I had just moved into a spacious, comfortable apartment I had rented from an old friend. I had recently started writing articles (for pay no less) for The Coast magazine. It had already been a big year.
Then my sister, Erica, flew in from Port Angelus, Washington, with her daughters, Analysa (age 2) and Lauryn (age 9 months). They arrived just as the sunshine was breaking forth in earnest for the summer.
I had already been through the usual introduction to “unclehood” business when Ana was an infant. I performed my first diaper change on Ana, giving Erica an opportunity to photograph me fumbling stupidly with the diaper. Another time Erica set me up for her own entertainment by assigning me the task of putting a pair of pants on Ana. I actually thought it was possible to accomplish this by putting the legs in through the top of the pants. Erica did not set me straight on this. After 15 minutes or so I realized I had to reach in through the pant cuffs and pull Ana’s kicking legs through, quickly on the second leg before the little rapscallion could wiggle her first leg back out.
I got through Uncle 101 with fair marks. Then along came Lauryn, a smiling, honey-blonde bundle of joy. I loved tossing her up in the air, nearly to the rafters, hearing her squeal on the way back down. Erica had me feed her once. I remember her stretched out on my lap, her head in the crook of my arm. She was sucking the milk out of the bottle with gusto, giving little soprano grunts of contentment.
Somewhere along the way Lauryn decided I was the best thing since sliced bread. I discovered this one evening when I came over to Mom’s house after work to visit the clan. I ascended the stairs and heard Lauryn crying. Apparently, some heavy object had just fallen over, producing a sharp sound and startling her. I rounded the corner into the living room, and when Lauryn looked up and saw me, she stopped crying immediately and put her arms out towards me.
It was to become a familiar sight: Lauryn putting her arms up, asking to be picked up by me, often even when her own mother was right there! It melted my heart to be sought after that way in such a passion of affection and trust. The love of a child is pure and uncomplicated. It is unquestionably genuine; babies cannot lie. Their love is potent and unrestrained. Lauryn decided I was so wonderful that she didn’t ever want to stop kissing me. So she didn’t. She would lean against my shoulder and plant kiss after kiss on my face. Only she didn’t quite understand the mechanics of kissing, so she would come at me with her mouth wide open. It was startlingly affectionate. When she did this with other people around, it was a bit uncomfortable. I half expected to be asked, “What do you think you’re doing with that child there?” Then I would have had to say something like, “I’m not doing anything! She just keeps kissing me!”
But I loved it. I had never experienced anything like it. Lauryn would put her arms around my neck and hold on to me tightly for long periods of time. There is something perfect and holistic about a hug. Arms are the perfect length for wrapping around another’s trunk. And in the case of babies and small children, whose arms are short, God provided necks for them to hold onto. Lauryn understood all this very well and gave me regular hugs. I would make special trips over to Mom’s just to see her. I would come over in the morning, scoop Lauryn up, put her on my shoulders and take her out on the deck to enjoy the burgeoning warmth of the day. She would sit contentedly on my shoulders, watch the birds and play with the wind chimes.
I still have a special relationship with Lauryn in spite of only rarely seeing her because of geographical distance. Here she is, standing on my right. No doubt she has forgotten that summer of ’04, but I haven’t. Whenever I see her, I can’t resist gathering her up for a shoulder ride, even though she’s 8 now. She still goes around giving sunny grins to everyone in the vicinity. Being a social butterfly is her primary occupation, and she fulfills it to the exclusion of more minor concerns such as homework and chores.
I wonder what she will be like when she’s a young woman. I envision her as someone whose friendly charm will overpower everyone around her.
Perhaps a grown-up Lauryn will happen across this little ode. If so, let me take this opportunity to say: Hi, niece. You are one of a kind.