My niece, Jennifer Eve is thirty and nephew, Adam Burton is twenty-seven.

I protested their names when sister Jackie and John choose them. I’d never known a Jennifer and had no idea what that name would bring a child and my only experience with an Adam had been Adam West from, you know it, Batman. When I realized they were accidentally doing the whole Eve/Adam thing, I really protested. But you see I lost.

I renamed them. One look at that tiny baby lying in the bassinet when I first saw my niece and “Bear” came to mind. No idea why, she didn’t look like a bear, cry like a bear, nor certainly walk like a bear. Nevertheless, there it was. My poor nephew fared less well. One look at him, red-faced, and he became Adam Ant. The nicknames are particularly funny now since Bear is a 5’4” small framed, petite-figured (super strong) woman and Ant is a strapping (now I know what that word means) 5’10”, 170-pound muscle-bound weightlifting man who picks his aunt up with one arm.

But such is life. You never know what you’re getting when you name someone.

Jennifer is still unknown to me. She is a total exploration of herself. The world zings around and through her and she trades punches with it.  When she enters a room, there is energy that could almost turn lamps on. She’s kind of like a tornado, but we like that about her.

Adam, of anyone I have ever known, has been and will be the Batman of our current world. He is always there to support a friend, divert someone from disaster, and lead others down a path to goodness. Humbleness was never so epitomized for me as when he gave his salutatorian speech during high school graduation.

The names fit.

I moved near Seester when the kids were six and three. Since our younger sister, ten years behind me, I had had no experience with babies or toddlers or mid-sized kids moving toward puberty. There was all this uncontrolled chaotic energy bouncing off the walls and ceilings and zapping around the rooms and for a woman who had commandeered her own brand of quietude for years, this was a shocker.

Luckily, the kids had patience.

Spending weekends at Seester’s house, the kids would, for some unfathomable reason, want to be around me. It took several trips, but we finally worked out the twenty-minute rule. They could be around for twenty minutes, and then they had to go away and play for twenty minutes. Back for twenty; gone for twenty. I realized kids can’t tell time.

Being the ever so nice sister that I am, each October for a few years, I would generously say to Seester, “Ah, it’s your anniversary again. Sure I’ll watch the kids while you have dinner. You’re going for pizza, right?” Graciously, they would be back for the kids in the space of two hours. I don’t think Jeremiah ever worried about me the way Seester did. I think he worried I would put the kids in the closet.

Eventually, they were allowed to go to Piney Dell for a leisurely, romantic dinner and be gone for a few hours in case they wanted to stroll through town after eating and visit with some of the local shopkeepers.

I grew up … a little

A breakthrough was made! I kept the kids overnight! The first time, Seester had to pick them up at nearly the crack of dawn, but after a couple of years, I was volunteering to keep them for the whole weekend. The last year they were still small enough for this nonsense, I actually whined, “Do you really have to take them home?”

Suddenly, Bear was driving. How did ten years go by that quickly? She would come to visit and stay overnight. We’d eat Ben & Jerry’s and lie on the floor and construct constellations from the plaster bumps and crevices in the ceiling. Mine was also the favorite sleepover place when the hot tub arrived. I never told her, but the first night she drove away from my house to be home before dark, I raced back inside, quickly dialed Seester and nearly screamed, “Don’t let her know I did this but call me as soon as she gets home.” I knew then for sure that aunt-hood was as close as I wanted to be to parenthood. Whoa to the stress.

Adam only got to drive to my house and stay over once before I moved away. That night is etched in my brain and raises tears in my eyes when I recall it, much like I can easily conjure the picture of Adam at age four, padding barefoot through the house early on a Saturday morning and making his rounds delivering hugs. Little arms wrapped tightly around your neck, a light kiss on your cheek and the ever, pat-pat-pat of his tiny hand on your back. There, there, everything is fine, that pat seemed to say.

Distance doesn’t matter

I’ve lived away from these precious people for thirteen years. The ache in my heart at leaving them has never lessened. They are a constant in my daily thoughts and evening prayers. Their unconditional acceptance of me as their maniac-aunt, and their unconditional love when they had to contend with my impatience and lack of understanding as to what unconditional love is, have served me well.

When my phone rings and I see the name appear and it is one of them, my smile is rich and my heart is full and I know that the conversation will be a spinning circle of exchanges that range everywhere and sometimes find their starting point and sometimes don’t and will always end with more than one “I love you” flying back and forth between us.

My niece and nephew raised me and I think I’ll start telling my friends to give Jenny and Adam the credit when they appreciate something good in me. The kids did a great job with some pretty raw material.

I love you both.