When I was 16, someone really cool came into our family.
My niece was born.
I thought she was the most miraculous little thing I had ever laid eyes on. When she was baptised, her parents chose me to be a godparent. It was probably the first time I ever felt like one of the adults in my family.
They let me babysit, as well, even when she was just teeny-tiny. The first time I took care of her she cried and cried and cried. I finally called my mom for help and she came into town with my grandmother to help me. By the time they got there, of course, my niece was sleeping soundly. She slept the rest of the evening. Mom and Grandma and I just watched her.
She was pretty special.
My brother must have trusted me a lot, because he let me babysit her again and again. It got easier, or I got better at it. By the time she was a toddler, I loved hanging out with that kid and was thrilled that her parents were the "going out" type of people so I got to watch her a lot.
My brother used to tell me that I could invite people over when I babysit. "It's fine to have a friend or two over," he would say. "We don't mind."
That's a rare thing to hear when you are babysitting, but I preferred to have my niece all to myself.
When she was about two, I remember watching her late one evening. She was obviously getting sleepy, but didn't want to go to bed. She parked herself in front of the television and insisted that she would stay up until her parents got home. She kept talking. She was sitting up, ramrod straight, her eyes open wide.
I sat beside her and we watched television. At some point, I looked over at her to see her eyelids getting heavy. I finally put my hand on her shoulder and sort of gently leaned her to the side. She was passed out, sound asleep. She didn't even twitch. So I curled up beside her and we slept on the floor until her parents got home.
Then I went away to college and my niece kept growing up without me. Here she is in 1992, wearing my cap and gown.
This past weekend she graduated from the University of Kansas. She walked through the campanille and down that same hill I did.
She's all grown up now, and I still think she's amazing.