The last time I saw my niece was when she and her mother visited me, and I was stunned. Her long hair now sported two pink stripes and her beautiful eyes were lined with black eyeliner. At 13, Emi was officially a teenager with made-to-shock looks and the attitude to match. Her conversation alternated between mumbled replies to my questions and criticisms of her mother.
Despite her lukewarm reception, I continued to interact with her. Experience tells me that girls (and grown-ups also) will often push us away just when they need us the most.
It had been a tough year for Emi. Her parents had divorced the year before and her world was changing. The demands of school were complicated by a new social structure that now included boys. It was harder for me to keep in regular touch since Emi lived several hours away.
I was frustrated by her resistance but reminded myself of what it was like to be her age. My parents divorced when I was fourteen, and I remembered the anger and sadness of that changed family dynamic. I also remembered experimenting with clothes and make-up while trying to figure out just exactly who I was supposed to be. I recalled the almost impossible balance between appearing cool and being true to myself.
I also recalled earlier version of Emi: the exuberant toddler who made the entire family take off their shoes and dance in a circle and the earnest ten-year-old who explained her school report on John Lennon in minute detail. Those parts of her were still in there, buried deep, waiting to be revealed again.
After she and her mother returned home, I thought about better ways to connect with Emi. Directly addressing my own experience with divorce and adolescence was likely to scare her off and make her even more reluctant to talk. It was also hard for me to muster enthusiasm for the task. The truth is that it is easy to do things for children (or anyone else) when they are open and appreciative. It‘s no problem to pick up the phone and call my six-year-old niece Gracie, or drop by to see her—she still greets me with a hug and a smile.
Still, while Emi may not express her gratitude openly, I was sure that she’d appreciate a renewed connection with me. So I decided to start with a care package. I bought a flat-rate postal box and filled it with festive goodies. I poured bag after bag of different varieties of chocolate into the box and added Mardi Gras beads and feathery pencils. I put in a book and small toys. I covered the outside of the box with stickers and mailed it off, hoping for the best.
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