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I have one niece and she just happens to be the greatest niece in the history of all nieces. I understand my bias, but that doesn’t change the truth—Alexi is freaking awesome.

She’s eight years old now—a constant reminder of just how old I am. [Insert Debbie Downer face.] I remember the day she was born. She cried. I cried. It was beautiful.

But she’s not a baby anymore. She’s not even a little girl. Alexi is wise beyond her years. Sometimes her wisdom helps her excel in life—at things like reading and math. Sometimes it gets her into trouble—when she thinks she’s old enough to do things grown-ups do. And sometimes—more often than not—that little girl teaches this big girl important life lessons without even knowing it.

When Alexi was three years old, she taught me one such lesson while driving in the car. Her mom (my sister) was driving us all to my Aunt Maria’s house in Nashville. It was October, and Alexi had made it clear that she didn’t like scary Halloween decorations. So as we passed a house covered in skeletons, ghosts, spider webs and monsters, Alexi reminded us that she didn’t approve.

“That’s scary!”

“It’s okay, Lexi,” I said. “Everyone is scared of something.”

“What are you scared of, Aunt Ruthie?” she replied.

I looked at my sister and giggled, knowing that this three-year-old would not understand my reply.

“I’m scared of living a life of solitude.”

And then, quicker than you could spell Tennessee, she replied, “It’s okay. You have Michelle.”

Michelle was my roommate at the time—a good friend that Lexi had met many times.

I looked at my sister, both of our mouths gaping wide open.

“How do you know what solitude means?!” I gasped.

But she had moved on to playing with her stuffed animal, as if she hadn’t just jumped ahead 20 years in life.

Lesson learned: Just because I’m single doesn’t mean I’m alone.

Then there was another time that five-year-old Lexi was coloring at the kitchen table, an activity she did almost every day. One of my brothers was planning his wedding at the time, so the conversation revolved around travel plans, dresses and gifts.

Lexi’s curious mind is always running, whether or not she’s part of the conversation, proven again when she looked up from her coloring book to ask,

“Mommy, do I have to get married?”

“Yes,” was my sister’s reply. (Wow. Being a parent is pretty easy, I guess.)

But Lexi, like me, was not satisfied with her mom’s response.

“But Aunt Ruthie is not married.”

And that little comment shut my sister up.

Lesson learned: You don’t have to get married. It is okay to be single.

I could probably write 50,000 words on the many lessons Alexi has taught me in the past eight years. The most important lesson of all, however, is what true, selfless love is all about. I don’t have children of my own, but looking at her, I feel unconditional love.

And I want a life for her that’s better than what I want even for myself. I want her to find true love and be fulfilled in a relationship, but also find contentment and adventure in being single. I want her to rise above the pressures of society, to never feel she’s weird because she does or does not have a boyfriend, and to know that with God she can truly do anything.

Lesson learned: I should put these “lessons from a kid” to practice in my own life… and want good things for myself as well.

Thanks, Alexi, for your words of wisdom. I love you.

~Aunt Ruthie