For the past month, we have had a guest in the house. And no, it’s not a mouse, and no, she’s really not a guest. She’s more than that and always has been… my niece, my family, my helper, my right-hand woman and just an all-around good kid.
Good kid. I like to say those two words together.
Good kid. There are plenty of them out there, but we don’t usually pay real tribute to them as a whole unless they’re some sort of child prodigy or sports star or young business mogul or queen or winner of something. And when we’re talking community, sometimes we forget to include them in the discussion, in the decision, in the vision for it all.
I mention this because my niece, T, reminded me of the demographic I have been away from since I was one myself 100 million years ago.
Because on Monday, T turned 16.
I remember when she was born and her first birthday and when I bought her a tiny pink cowgirl hat and she fell in the mud at the ranch and was so mad we couldn’t get her to stop crying, but let’s not go there with those memories today.
Because today, T is 16 and she has her driver’s license so she took the 100-mile trip to stay in the basement and save our lives during the months when I had major events to plan and execute, long-distance singing trips, my husband was laid off from his job, my family had health scares and our lawn still needed mowing, our ranch still needed running, our suppers still needed cooking and our babies still needed us.
So when we couldn’t fully be there, T, who was still just 15, was. And I never worried about her with my kids for a minute, which freed me up to worry about all of the other things listed above.
And while I was giving her a rundown of the schedule for the day in the middle of our very unscheduled life while sweeping Froot Loops off the floor on my way out the door and then coming back into the house two or three more times because I forgot my coffee cup/phone/computer/sunglasses in my rush out, it made me wonder what our life looked like to this almost-16-year-old observer.
When I was 16, I drew a picture of the house I wanted to live in, on the ranch surrounded by cattle and horses. It wasn’t a good picture — I’m a terrible artist — but you get the idea. And inside that house I thought we would have three sons and matching furniture and cupboards that you could open without Tupperware and sippy-cups falling out on our heads.
Inside that house I thought there would live two adult people canning garden tomatoes together, certain of a supper plan and free of the angst and fear you have when you’re 16 years old. Because at 16, I really thought that there would come a time in adulthood, likely right here on the cusp of my 36th year, that everyone just had it figured out. Your cupboards, your lawn, your career, your family, your paperwork… because that’s what I thought adulthood meant.
If T ever thought that was the case, my husband and I popped her bubble in the most chaotic way. This summer threw a few hooks at us, it’s true. And when I was almost 16, I certainly didn’t see a future where an almost 16-year-old would save my almost 36-year-old butt the way that T has this summer, just by being fully and truly there.
Not by being a superhero.
Not by being a princess (although she’s earned a few tiaras).
Not by being a child prodigy or a star athlete or winning “American Idol.”
No. She’s none of those things.
But allow me to let something as simple as this thought make the paper for once: She’s loyal. She’s confident, trustworthy and mature. She’s compassionate and helpful, organized and has good manners.
She cleans up after herself. She doesn’t complain much. She’s kind, but fierce when she needs to be. She’s loving and smart and she knows what she wants.
She’s 16. She’s my niece. And she means everything to me and she’s going to mean everything to this world, because simply and most importantly, she’s a good kid.