I was seventeen when he came into my life somewhat unexpectedly. We were both blonde and chubby, although he was given a pass; infants are supposed to be chubby.
My eldest nephew, Pokey, was born on a cold November 10 morning. My sister’s first born, this darling boy managed his first heroic feat just by being; in ways I can’t articulate, he seemed to save my sister. She became a new person, like most women do when they become mothers. At the same time, she was the same person she had always been, since she was like a second mother to me and my younger siblings.
I changed, too. I became an aunt, the favoritest title I’ve ever had. I babysat, changed diapers, spent money earned at the video store on presents. I couldn’t help it. I adored him. My sister lived in the house next door to ours, so I saw Pokey every day. I got to play a bigger role than some aunts do in helping him grow up. I am so very lucky.
April 24, 2000 was the first time he said he loves me. We were sitting at the table at my great-grandmother’s house and he suddenly said ‘I yuh you,” to which I said “You love me?” “Yep” was all he said and he went back to eating oyster crackers and watching PBS. He was 2 1/2.
I have countless memories of flag football, Saturday morning bowling, Halloween costumes, and squishy noses. I have stacks of pictures of Little League games, birthday parties, and candids.
The hardest part of moving away to college was knowing how far I would be from him and his eventual siblings. It was a million times harder than leaving my parents or anyone else. Coming home to see them was the highlight of any return trip.
One day, when he was eleven, I was in training, and we had a random day off of classes. I hopped on the Metra train and went out to my sister’s. When Pokey got home from school, he hadn’t been expecting me, so he didn’t think far enough to play it cool when he walked through the door. He squealed and jumped up and down. It was a moment when I felt so very loved.
He’s an incredible athlete, a great big brother, and exactly the kind of teenager people hope their kids will turn out to be. I was lucky enough in my ministry appointments to be near enough that I could still make it to the occasional football game or Easter dinner. He humors his old aunt, and for that I’m grateful. I love spending time with him, even if he is WAY cooler than me.
He turned seventeen on Monday. The same age I was when he was born.
Monday also happened to be the day I moved home, having resigned for the sake of my health and my family. As I drove the Uhaul home that night, I decided that this year, nephew gets his aunt back for his birthday. No more fearful, quiet, angry aunt, exhausted and unhealthy from a difficult work environment. He might be too old for Tickle Monster attacks now, but he can still laugh with me (and sometimes at me). I doubt that any seventeen year old kid is terribly excited about getting a geeky, slightly broken aunt for his birthday.
But tonight, when I got to my sister’s for the first time since being home, I hugged him in the basement after he turned on the Wii for his youngest brother. Instead of the too-cool-for-this hugs he usually obliges me with on holidays, he gave me a real hug. And he didn’t let go right away either. In those seconds, hugging this kid who is now taller than me even when I’m in heels, it felt like part of the world was made right again. I doubt that he has any idea what it meant to me. I don’t think he has a clue that he is part of why I am home. I’m not sure that he’s given my return a ton of thought (not because he’s careless, but because he’s a seventeen year old with a busy life), but I’m going to allow myself a bit of delusion and think that that hug meant a little more than the birthday hugs. I’m going to think that his arms around me, head on my shoulders, and solid almost-ten-seconds of a hug means that he is glad I’m home.
This boy who is almost a man has been in my life for half of my existence. I’m really looking forward to getting to be a bigger part of his life again, now that I’m home.