You’re in college when your niece is born, and you decide to do what it takes to be the best aunt ever. When she’s teeny-tiny, it’s swimming. You’re on summer break, and every afternoon, you and your best friend pick her up and take her to the apartment complex pool. In swim diaper and bathing suit, she is the quintessential water baby. You’re lucky enough to be there the first time she sees the ocean. “Oh, wow,” she says, delighted. You remember the story and tell it to her again and again as she grows up.
The two of you play make-believe with her dolls and stuffed animals. You volunteer to take her trick-or-treating. You have her over for sleepovers at what she charmingly calls your “bapartment,” where she fixates on the fact that when you flush the toilet, the shower gets scalding-hot. You bake cookies together. You endure her waking you up at six in the morning. You doze on the couch while she sits on your stomach watching cartoons.
You buy her Powerpuff Girls sheets after she develops a fascination with them. Soon, they’re replaced by Hannah Montana, Zack & Cody, and Wizards of Waverly Place. You watch all these shows with her and even half enjoy them. When Hannah Montana comes to town for the rodeo, you take your niece to the concert.
Roller coasters suddenly loom large. You take her to Astroworld and ride all the rides. You buy a keychain with a photo of the two of you screaming on the Bamboo Shoot. You take her to the rodeo carnival, and y’all ride the Slingshot together into the sky. Schlitterbahn and Splash Town come next—even the tall slide that scares you half to death and gives you a wedgie. At Moody Gardens, she steals a rock from the gift shop and you make her return it.
She gets older. You get older. Now when she spends the night, your husband-to-be is there and the three of you watch ’80s movies: The Breakfast Club, Better Off Dead, Pretty in Pink, 16 Candles. You take her to Kroger and let her pick out pints of Blue Bell, hot fudge, and all of the toppings. She goes through your old clothes, tries on all the cool stuff from when you were younger and thinner, and takes it home with her.
She wants to go shopping. You buy her Vans that she will wear for years, duct-taping them together as they fall apart. You take her to Victoria’s Secret in the Galleria and get her her first nice bras. Now offended if you even mention her past love for Hannah Montana, she’s into heavy metal. Off to Hot Topic you go for band shirts.
You and your husband take her to the concert she’ll always say was her first—Ozzy Osbourne at the Toyota Center. She is mesmerized. You take her to see Megadeth at Bayou Music Center. You take her to see a band called, yes, Dying Fetus, at Warehouse Live, and at this one, you sit in the back wearing earplugs, playing Words with Friends on your phone. On the way out, you buy her the T-shirt. You always buy her the T-shirt.
Then one day, she starts going to shows with her friends. You ask her to spend the night, but she texts back to say she can’t—she’ll be at Free Press Summer Fest all weekend. Another time, then, you say. You’re careful not to let your feelings get hurt. That, too, is part of being a good aunt.