NORMAN — A funny thing happened a few weeks ago at the airport.
I was there to pick up what I assumed was a 13-year-old niece. As I was waiting for her to show up, I realized I was an equal amount of nervous and excited, as it was the first time she flew in an airplane by herself.
Knowing that her parents, her grandparents and other family members expected me to not only make sure she got off the plane safely but also get her back to my house in one piece was a huge responsibility and one I didn’t take lightly.
I remember the first time her parents left me in charge of her care. She was probably barely 1-year-old and we went to the park. I was a single, young aunt at the time who had hardly been around toddlers. There wasn’t much said, but I could tell everyone involved in the situation, myself included, was a bit apprehensive if I could pull it off.
And, ironically, that afternoon in the park was just that: an afternoon in the park. I brought her home well fed, tired and happy, which has set a precedent for our adventures. That’s the fun part about being the aunt. I don’t have to fret if she ate her vegetables or that she’s in bed on time. All I have to worry about is getting a happy report from the kid that she had a good time in my care.
So I stood there, in the airport baggage claim area waiting. Looking at the clock. Looking at the arrival times for flights. Looking back at the clock. I had my own little routine down that I’m sure was entertaining to the employees in the rental car booth.
And then it started happening. People were filing down the stairs. People with bags who had just got off an airplane. I got more anxious. Looking at the clock. Watching the line of people. And I kept waiting.
And that’s when it happened. I saw this young woman wave at me. Since I was there to meet a 13-year-old, I didn’t expect a woman wearing eye makeup and a trendy hairstyle to be waiving at me. And then it hit me. That stranger, that young woman, was my niece, the 13-year-old.
Every time I see her, I’m a bit caught off guard. She changes so much over a matter of months. But this time, she wasn’t that little girl any more that I took to the park. She’s taller than me, finally. She gets attention from boys. And she likes getting all of that attention from boys.
In stores, her eyes now wonder to slick magazine covers with hunky actors, not toys or stuffed animals. Those days are gone forever, I’m afraid.
We used to do things like dance silly in stores. That, I’m told, is no longer appreciated. Now we have late night talks about boys. We watch the teen movies that I watched when I was her age. She helped me understand another popular social networking site — kind of.
I bought her a Pink Floyd T-shirt, and she gave me advice on what is cool to wear. Apparently, if you were wondering, anything with a skull on it this year is a fashion trend. She also told me how I should wear my hair.
Some of it, like all advice on hair and clothing, was taken with a grain of salt. Not that it was bad advice, but I doubt the bosses would appreciate a hot-pink haired city editor draped in anything that resembled a graveyard.
This fall, she will be a freshman in high school. She, unlike her aunt, was smart enough to skip the seventh grade — something I brag about a lot but something that also breaks my heart. I thought I’d have an extra year to get used to the idea of her being a high schooler. Sometimes aunts don’t get to make those kinds of decisions.
We just get to hear about her crushes, her heartbreaks and make sure she has a good time. A job I accept with a full heart and an open wallet.