Learning Maturity from my Niece

Sacred Heart in Elsa, Texas

¡Nombre no! I don’t want to get old. It’s not fun. I’m not even that old, am I? Last night, I got to see my niece turn fifteen – well, she turned fifteen on Tuesday, but last night was her Quinceañera. I was eleven, pushing twelve when she came into this world. Now a month before my birthday, her party was scheduled.

There I sat, holding the camcorder, as she gave her adult soul to God and promised to follow Jesus. The priest blessed the parents, the godparents, the grandparents and the best friends. I joked to Jyg later that the high school janitors were blessed before the aunts and uncles.

We always knew this day would come; however, I feel cheated that it came too soon. Both my brother and my sister-in-law escorted my little niece, my other brother’s daughter, down the path before my fifteen-year-old neice was presented. My little niece, who is only five, acted as the child Quinceañera. The two danced to Ring-o-round-the-rosies then the little one danced with the Quinceañera’s father before he began to dance with his daughter. It was bitter-sweet. Nine years from this November, that little girl will be celebrating her fifteenth birthday. Lucky us, hu?

I nearly cried. I would’ve cried if we all had to speak. And not because my niece was no longer the little baby who was the first to make me an uncle, but because my age was beginning to show.

They say, the only true way to realize you’re getting old is to add children into the equation. Watching them grow up, you realize that you’re aging rapidly. Soon, there will be weddings and babies of their own. That really starts it, too, I believe.

There are two stories, before I end this, that I would like to summarize. One was when my niece was only about three. I was around high school age. We both were in the kitchen while my mother was outside, tending to the yard. I opened a jar of cookies – Oreo’s, no less – and handed a couple to my niece. And I told her, with a stern voice, “If you get caught, you’re on your own.” She laughed.

I went outside to see what was what and, soon after, she came a-trottin’ after me – cookie smeared all around her mouth. Crucial evidence against Uncle Willie. We were caught, needless to say.

The second was about two years ago. I was sitting with her in the kitchen as she did her homework. I made trying to help her, but it was math. I’ve always been bad at math. We talk idly, her asking me questions about my lack of faith – I come from a strong Catholic family. Then she looks at me and asks, “Why don’t you speak to your dad?”

Like a sack of bricks to my stomach, the question leaves me speechless. “He asks about you, you know.” I hadn’t – and still haven’t – spoken to my father in years. There was no way around it. While her grandfather and my father are two different entities, they are the same person.

“He wasn’t always the man you know,” I replied. “And some things are a lot harder to let go than you can imagine.”

And she looked up at me, replying only, “Yeah. But you should still talk to him.”

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