Have I told you about my niece Rory? (And yes, that‘s a blogonym.) Last week, Rory turned eighteen years old. Today, she leaves for college. This morning, I suddenly felt like I had run out of time.
Eighteen years ago, I held her newborn self in my arms. It was a sunny, breezy morning, just like we are having today. She was wearing an infant-sized sweat suit with my college insignia on it that I had purchased for her. It was too big for her, of course, but she was wearing it for my send-off. I gave her one last kiss on top of her head and held back my tears as I handed her back to my sister. “There’ll be lots of time to hold you later, “ I promised. And then I drove off to college.
And I did get to see a lot of her those first two years. I was often home on weekends and I’d care for her on school breaks. But it never seemed like enough. I looked forward to being out of school and having a job so I could spoil her properly. I wanted to be the kind of aunt that would always buy her things, the things that her parents might not want to get her. I wanted to be the kind of aunt who would always take her places that no one else wanted to take her. I was ready to buy prom dresses and brave coliseum concerts. Remember the Friends character Monica, when she held her newborn nephew Ben for the first time and said, “I’ll always have gum”? That was the kind of aunt I wanted to be, the cool one.
The same summer I graduated from college and moved back home, my sister and her family moved out of state. I went with them to help out for the first few weeks but I eventually had to go back home and get a job and figure my own life out. So I said “Goodbye” to Rory once again and vowed to spend more time together, later.
Then there were the jobs, graduate school, a fiancé that lived two hours away, the wedding to plan… Then it was my turn to move far away and start my own family. That “later time” kept getting pushed later and later. I missed birthday parties and first days of school. I missed Christmas mornings and beloved pet funerals. I missed school plays, concerts, and graduations. I missed her leaving for her first date and leaving for her prom. And now I’m missing her leaving for college.
There was one auntie gut-wrenching phone call where I had to explain to the then six year old Rory why I was missing her birthday party twelve hours away. “Maybe you can take an airplane ride,” she helpfully suggested in her sad little voice. But there was work and it wasn’t a good time to make the trip and we just bought a new house so, I missed it. I hated that I missed it, but I missed it. I’d make it up to her, later.
Eventually, the missing out part got a little easier, as I became even more absorbed in my own life. The distance was incorporated into our daily life expectations. We made the most out of every visit and still do. We make those visits as often as possible. I know I’ve had an impact. I know I have a relationship with Rory and her sister. In some ways, I am the aunt I’ve wanted to be. But I feel like I missed so much. And the missing part got hard again this year as Rory had her last school concert, when she graduated from high school, and today, as she packs her stuff for college.
On our last visit to her house, we spent a whole afternoon together. She took me to her favorite coffee house, her favorite clothing boutique. I met her (then) boyfriend. And we watched a lot of Gilmore Girls. I was struck by how much she is not a kid anymore and how much our relationship is about to change. We will email each other. I’ll hope to visit her at school. I’ll send her care packages of the little things no one else will think to send her. I'll visit her My Space page to see who and what are new in her life. I know I’ll be a part of it in some way. Only now, she’ll be the one saying, “later.”