Under the glistening late spring sun, I watch my nieces and their friend dancing around the front of my sister’s mini-van in the parking lot of our favorite ice cream stand. I look at Gianna, my oldest niece barely 13 and often mistaken for 11, goofing with her younger sister and laughing so whole heartedly that I expect ice cream to be squirting out of her mouth as she busts a gut.
My sister yells for the girls to hurry up. We both want to go home, she spent the day at the softball field with my oldest niece and I had met them there taking Jenny my youngest niece to Relay for Life so she could sell raffle tickets and the duct tape crafts she and the other members of her school’s Kids for a Cure Cancer Club had made for the fundraising event for the American Cancer Society. I turn and comment, “It’s hard to believe in 5 years Gianna will be graduating from high school and heading off to college.”
In part, what I am really saying is let them goof around a little longer. Soon, way too soon, they will no longer be little girls dancing in the ice cream stand parking lot but young women heading off to college and the next chapters of their lives and we will be longing for moments just like this one. Their all too fleeting childhoods are made up of fleeting moments like this; moments we should enjoy while we can.
We will yearn for the days when their young lives orbited around ours. When every winter Saturday, we spent the entire day in the local school gym not only watching their basketball games but the games of their friends because the girls wanted to stay and wanted us to stay with them. Soon enough it won’t matter so much to them if we stay.
When spring time meant shuttling between softball fields several days of the week. Two girls both on two teams meant schedule conflicts – my sister would most often take her younger daughter to her game; dropping my oldest niece off to me so I could take her to the softball field around the corner from my house for her game. Their father bouncing between the two games as my sister and I text the scores of games to each other. As tiring as softball season can be, sooner than I care to think I will look back with a fond yearning for the spring days when Gianna came charging into my house, dropping her cleats and softball bag on my living room floor along with the dirt from the softball field.
I enjoy my role as the favorite aunt and have sometimes been accused of spoiling my nieces – guilty as charged. I spoiled the now adult niece and nephews when they were little and I spoil the younger ones too. It is my prerogative as favorite aunt. I know soon enough, they will no longer be calling me at 6 pm on a Sunday night because they don’t have all the supplies they need for a school project due in the morning and neither mom nor dad can take them. I remind myself to enjoy even that moment as it is all part of growing up.
Sitting in the late spring sun with my sister watching my nieces dance, I realize how fleeting their childhood is and I know that I will continue to tie their shoes, make Christmas magical for them, bake cookies, tickle their arms like Nanny (my Mom) did for them when they were babies, take them to Chuck E. Cheese , watch their softball and basketball games, go to their plays and concerts and squeeze my adult bottom into the auditorium seats not designed to comfortably seat adults (and I will point out that design flaw every time), and yes spoil them for as long as they want me to. And, I will try to be grateful for each fleeting moment of their childhoods I get to spend with them.