Yesterday (CST, today for me), I took on a new and different role within my family. Having grown up with almost no change in the roles I played in the lives of my immediate family (I have always been sister, daughter, cousin), the first major change to that structure came when my brother fell in love with and married a wonderful girl named Carrie, during my freshman year of college. I suddenly had a new label - "sister in law" - which I suddenly had to learn to adjust to. Having grown up with only brothers, I had to learn how to be a sister to a sister, but I love having Carrie in the family.
Last February (a few days before my birthday, in fact), Marc and Carrie informed me of a new label I'd soon be taking on, this one a bit scarier: Aunt. That label took hold yesterday/this morning with the birth of Vera Elizabeth, a tiny little 7 pound 5 oz baby girl.
I'll be the first to tell you that children scare me a little - I'm always afraid of doing something wrong around them, and I think it would just be better if they had the sense to timewarp from womb to fully grown 19 or 20 year old people right away. But unfortunately, life doesn't work that way. And I have to emphasize: while being an aunt does scare me a little as dealing with small children is not something I do often, I am incredibly excited to be an aunt. Marc, Carrie and I have already agreed on certain roles I will play in their kid's life. For example, in a few years, I'm going to start a savings account in her name so that when she turns 18 (and graduates from high school), my graduation present to her will be a trip anywhere she wants to go in the world. And if she, for some odd reason, is not a traveler (pshaw, MY NIECE? Perish the thought!), then the money will go toward her college funds.
Even though it's 18 years off, this is something I feel I can do for her right now - I can set down the goal of instilling a sense of the fullness of the world she lives in within this new life. I want her to be aware, unlike so many, of the world beyond the borders of her country, to see that there are people everywhere, stories to be told, friends to make, adventures to have. I want her to be encouraged to break out of the mold and take challenges as they come and to adventure whenever and where ever she can. I feel like that is a good legacy I can give her.
Because, let's face it, with my travel history, the chances that I'm going to be the aunt who lives across the street are probably going to be very slim. And I'm pretty okay with that - she will know me as the aunt who's living in Japan. The aunt who is off studying for a story in Russia, or helping people recover from the sex trade in Cambodia, or working to promote fairly traded products in Australia. The aunt who sends her presents after hiking around Ayers Rock, after drinking a beer at Oktoberfest, after sitting in the sun in a park in England. While I may not be there for her physically (right now, I'm looking at pictures from 9,000 miles away, having trouble believing that all this is real), I can be an example, a person she can look up to and say "Now that's the type of embracing the world and experiencing life that I want to see in my own life."
Granted, it'll be years before she gets to that level of self reflection, but in the meantime, she can still get some awesome presents.