April 2nd is National Peanut Butter & Jelly Day.
April 2nd, 1999, was also the day I became an Aunt to the peanut butter to my jelly.
I can still remember the corner of the rug where my six year old self stood while telling my kindergarten classmates about my niece’s arrival. I’m sure my voice was quiet, shaking maybe. But I was so proud of my new title as Auntie.
I never knew how much joy the job of Aunt brings. When my niece was born, her arrival unlocked a piece of my heart that will forever be full. Bailie’s presence in this world is one of the greatest gifts I will ever receive. She has taught me how to be a loving, protective, and cool (don’t roll your eyes, B!) Aunt. One of my most favorite parts of life is being her Aunt.
Since B came into my life, nine other tiny humans have followed and call me Auntie, too. I have never known a love so real or deep. And I have never felt more pride than hearing one of them say “I love you” or run into my arms for a bear hug. But today is all about my first niece and one of my very best friends.
I always thought that, when Bailie turned 18, I would look back on her life and see all of the things I have taught her. I never ever thought she would be the teacher. Bailie was the kid sister I never had, and within all of our crazy memories, she has taught me how to be a better human being.
Bailie has given me endless lessons in unconditional love. Oh, how I picked on this sweet girl growing up! We went everywhere on my bike: me riding and steering, B standing on my pegs, holding onto my shoulders. I crashed us into bushes, I left her behind when she fell off while a big dog was chasing us, I almost got us ran over by a semi, and I gave her a terrible tire burn on her leg. But no matter how many times I messed up, she always got back on my bike for another ride. B, thank you for loving me despite my flaws and I’m glad we never actually got ran over.
Bailie has always been supportive of my ideas.
When I was convinced I was going to grow up to be a photographer, she sat in my room for hours while I told her how to model for various pictures. (Pictures taken with my fancy Fuji disposable camera!) And then when I decided I would be a coach when I got older, her little legs ran up and down my staircase dozens of times while I practiced using my new stopwatch and told her she had to beat her previous time. I know I will always have a #1 fan as long as B is in my life.
Bailie is brave, and she has inspired me to make courageous choices. When I first got my license but was too shy to place my order in the drive-thru (yes, that was a real problem I had), she happily rode with me and ordered, usually in an accent. When I was nervous about asking a store employee a question or a stranger to take our picture, Bailie spoke right up and asked for me. Over and over she has taught me how to be brave, and now it’s me that finds the courage at the top of the Ferris wheel to calm us both down. I am inspired by her decision for the next part of her life, and once again, she is wearing bravery on her face instead of fear.
But one of the biggest things B has taught me is what it feels like to be valued and admired. She has followed in my footsteps, and sometimes in my shadow, throughout her life journey. I remember her playing basketball, because I played it first. I remember her thinking about band, because I played in the band. But mostly, I remember how important it made me feel to watch her want to be like me.
She looked up to me, and it made me want to be a better person. I will always demand to be valued in my relationships, because Bailie taught me what an amazing feeling it is.
I have always teased Bailie about the special treatment she gets by being the first grandbaby and niece in the family. It never fails- we both do the same stupid thing but family members laugh at her and scold me. (I guess this is what every older sibling must experience!) But, as she turns 18, I realize why she deserves the special treatment. She has taught all of us what it means to be a mother, grandparent, and Aunt or Uncle. She has paved the path for her siblings and cousins to grow up being loved and cherished.
Without the gift of B, we would all be stumbling around trying to figure out how to embrace our roles.
Bailie, you are my person.
I anxiously watch out the window on holidays, waiting for you to show up because that’s when the fun starts. You are the only person in the world I am comfortable enough with to sing along (loudly) to the radio. You are the first person I call when I need my hair done for a fancy occasion. You will always be my first-pick to go on the fair rides with me. You are the Dwight to my Michael, the ketchup to my potato chips, and the peanut butter to my jelly.
I can’t wait to cheer you on in the next adventure of your life.