You’re seventeen years old today. SEVENTEEN! For nearly seventeen years, I’ve had the honor and privilege to watch you grow. There are so many things I’ve wanted to say to you over the years about you growing up, there’s no way I can fit it all into one note. But if I’ve learned nothing recently, it’s to say what I really want to say before it’s too late, so I’m going to give it a shot.
I adore you. Both. I always have.
I remember you sprinting up and down the bleachers at your uncle’s football games before I knew your mom, Papa, Nana, or the many others in your life who love you. In fact I can honestly say that, perhaps behind Scoot, you were the first people in your family that I fell in love with.
Lil, as you figured out how to talk, you’d call out to me, “Emmmmmmmmm,” with the same wry smile I see you flash today. You’ve always known just what inflection to put into your voice, just what glimmer to put into your eye, just what to say to make me melt at your feet and do whatever I could to protect you and show you how awesome you are.
Lid, you’ve always been one part stoic plus a bit of goofy, a smidge of responsible, a dash of childish and a pinch of mature. Your dimples show your lightheartedness while your eyes tell the tale of someone who is intensely driven. You’ve spent your life balancing your fierce independence with your intense loyalty.
I’m so incredibly proud of the men you’re becoming. You make your share of mistakes. I know you expect me to tell you that. (I’ve never been much of a bullshitter.) But you’re learning, growing, changing, evolving. And I could not be happier.
Though I know you’ll accuse me of getting too sappy (You? Accuse me? Of sap? Never!!!), I do feel the need to tell you a few things that have been sitting on my mind for a while, things I don’t ever want to regret not telling you.
Most importantly, your family (including me) loves you very, very much. Your mom, no matter how much of a “mom” she may seem to you now, has given her all to put you first in her life. Maybe you “get” it now, maybe it’ll take a few years, but you are everything to her. Sure she isn’t perfect…I trust you know by now that none of us are…but you are lucky to have her in your corner.
Your Papa and Nana have both given much for you – of themselves, their homes and their time. They love you with an intensity that could move mountains. They’ve needed you in their lives this year more than ever. Continue to be there for them.
Your uncles have, at different times, shown you how to be goofy boys, responsible men and loving husbands and fathers. I hope that you see the roles they play not only in your life, but in others’ lives and that you’ll take them heart, not just today, but for many years to come.
I can’t speak for any of these people, or for your other family members who take you to the movies or to dinner, who make you quilts or *cough* let you beat them at video games *ahem*, but what I can tell you is that you are surrounded by love. And really, that’s sort of all that matters in life. Love.
And that leads me to a subject I’ve long wanted to talk about but haven’t ever really been able to broach. What is love? What does it mean? How do you know if you’ve seen it? It’s quite hard to tell you, really, because love is a whole lot of words and no words at all. And the real answer is, you don’t. But let me tell you how I’ve experienced it.
When I first met your uncle, he was a high school kid living with his mom and sister who recently had twins. After waking up and getting himself to school, he’d head to basketball or football practice, come home, do his homework, play some video games, go to bed, and then wake up in the middle of the night to help his sister, not much older than him, to feed his infant nephews so she could carry on with the difficult task of finishing college while taking care of newborns and performing as a high-caliber athlete. That? Was love. Of your mom and of you.
I’m not sure how else to say this…If you ever enter into a relationship with a girl who doesn’t “let” you engage in that type of role for someone in your family, run as fast as you can away from her. Never let a girl talk disrespectfully about your mom. Any girl worth your time will see what your dedication to your own family portends for her own future. If she doesn’t honor your family, she will not honor you. It’s really as simple as that. (In fact, it was because of the role Scoot played in your lives that I knew, at your age, that he’d make a great dad. And I have to say, I was quite right.)
Yet your uncle was one of the many people who wanted to play a positive role in your lives. It’s a role that, while obviously different, correlates closely with the role that you, as the eldest cousins, now play in the lives of three little boys who look up to you. When you were younger than “Baby Quinn” is now, your uncles and Papa all were given this picture of you along with the following poem.
There are little eyes upon you
and they’re watching night and day.
There are little ears that quickly
take in every word you say.
There are little hands all eager
to do anything you do;
And a little boy who’s dreaming
of the day he’ll be like you.
You’re the little fellow’s idol,
you’re the wisest of the wise.
In his little mind about you
no suspicions ever rise.
He believes in you devoutly,
holds all you say and do;
He will say and do, in your way
when he’s grown up just like you.
There’s a wide-eyed little fellow
who believes you’re always right;
and his eyes are always opened,
and he watches day and night.
You are setting an example
every day in all you do;
For the little boy who’s waiting
to grow up to be like you.
I hope that as I pass this poem onto you, you’ll find joy in having your younger family members look up to you. I hope you’ll find pride in living your life the way you want them to someday live it.
KNK, I love you. I have to believe it’s tough to have a sappy auntie like me always saying it, but it’s absolutely true that I’m always here for you if you need me.
I hope you had an awesome 17th birthday.
Your Auntie Emmie