An Open Letter to My Niece

Dear Aella,

When I first starting writing this, you were still marinating in your mama’s tummy, and would be for another 45 days or so. At this time of writing, I’ve met you, and I’ve held you, and I’ve fallen in love with you – you’ve got ten fingers, ten toes, your papa’s lips, and your mama’s nose, and you’re absolutely perfect. You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. And I love you more than people think is possible to love anyone, ignoring the fact that you aren’t even mine. But it doesn’t matter – the one thing I’ve learned from your parents, particularly your mother, is that blood isn’t what makes a family. I love your mother as much as any sister, and by extension, you, too, are the love of my life. I may not be blood like your Aunt Thea or your Aunt Aubrey, but I hope you’ll always love me as Aunt Michelle. And as Aunt Michelle, I wanted to write you a little something so that you’d always understand that, if you ever forget.

I knew you were a girl from the very moment your mom told me she was pregnant – I’m pretty sure I drove her crazy with my assertion, but I’ve only been certain of two things in my entire life, and your being a girl was one of them.  (I’m not going to tell you here what the other thing is, I haven’t seen how it’s panned out yet, so you’ll have to ask me after you read this). You’re my very best friend’s first child and my first niece, and there’s so much of the world I want you to experience to the best of your abilities. Your mom and I represent two very different, but equally strong and capable types of women who have both dealt with a variety of unique experiences, and we’ve learned a few things. Your mom will raise you with what’s she’s learned, but as your aunt, all I can offer is supplementary. I’m less of a fairy princess than your mom is, though – she’s definitely the sugar to my lemonade. She’s probably going to read this and think I’m being a downer, but I wrote it because I want to remember what the world was like before you were born, and I want you to understand the world in which you live now. Life is full of gifts, but they are fleeting, precious, and not without their prices. I think more than anything, that’s what I want you to understand, because I want you to grow up to be the kind of woman who understands the value of her choices.

I get preachy and feministy a lot, just as a warning. But you’ve probably learned that from me by now, so none of this should come as a surprise.

Value your mind over your appearance – I can pretty much guarantee that you’re beautiful. Your mother has always been beautiful, your aunts on your father’s side are beautiful, your grandmothers are beautiful. You will be gorgeous and you probably won’t even have to really try. Beauty seems like it’s everything when you’re young, and while I hope you aren’t subjected to the same sort of pressure to be pretty as girls were when your mother and I were growing up, if you are, please remember that it’s not everything. Beauty is transient, and it’s subjective. The people that really matter are the ones who think you’re beautiful no matter what – beauty is not what is going to make your life worthwhile. It’s easy to think so when beautiful airheads marry rich men, but those women will grow old and die knowing the emptiness of their choices. Your beauty should be measured by the intelligence you’ve acquired, your ability to love and be loved in return, your kindness and compassion, and your ability to be strong and stand up for yourself and your beliefs.

Think for yourself. It’s a double-standard for me to be telling you that, but I always think it’s worth being said. It’s easy to be liked by others if you give in to their expectations without a fight, but you will never be respected that way. Respect is far more valuable than likability. It’s what separates real friends from the false ones, the worthy from the unworthy. A woman who thinks for herself is a woman who will never be controlled and will always have the power to live her life in the way that she wants. That being said, remember the value of choice – a woman who decides to be a stay-at-home mom is just as powerful, amazing, and respectable as a woman who is the CEO of a major company. The point is, you learned what you wanted, you decided on what you wanted, and you went for it without anyone telling you otherwise.

Always demand more. People are always so afraid to question things – they accept what is because it is easier to do so than to kick up a fuss. The one thing that I’ve always admired about your mother is she gets things done when I was always too anxious to argue back. She’s mellowed out over the years and I’ve toughened up in that respect, but the point is, we’ve learned how to accept nothing less than what we deserve, and that’s what I want you to have from the very beginning – everything that you deserve.

Never back down from what you know in your heart is right. If you see someone being mistreated, speak up. If you know someone is in the wrong, correct them. But on the flip side, be open-minded. The world is never constant, nor does it follow any rhyme or reason. There is no single right way to live a life, and yours certainly won’t be the first. It’s important to stick to your guns when you know you’re right, but don’t be so inflexible that you’re not open to learning new things, or seeing things from a new perspective. You will never be right a hundred percent of the time, and your perspective should not be permanent. Learning is the most important part of growth, and that means more than what you learn in school – I mean what you learn by sitting with the broken, walking with the healthy, and running with the strong. Don’t follow blindly – question everything you’re told, and the only way you can do that successfully is to look at the world through the eyes of others who live very different lives than yourself.

I’m venturing into the preachy territory, and you’ve probably gotten bored of this already. You probably won’t even ever read this, although the Internet does seem to make everything permanent (another important thing to remember!), but that won’t stop me from wanting you to be the most extraordinary girl/woman you can be. And I want you to know that your parents and family and I love you tremendously no matter what path you choose in life. You will always have my support, and my love.

And probably my extra room whenever you need to run away. And probably money, because that’s what aunts do.

Love always,

Your affectionate Aunt Michelle

PS. Your mom doesn’t want me to swear around you after you’re old enough to learn what the words mean, so I figured I’d start practicing now, although you probably won’t be reading this until you’re old enough to make those sorts of decisions for yourself. Just saying.