I will be completely honest with y’all: Children have always terrified me. As the youngest in my family, I never spent much time around them. I always found them unpredictable, messy, and foreign.
Then my niece, Charlie, was born. The first time I held her (she was the first baby I ever held!) resembled something along the lines of a teenager clutching a football as he raced for the game winning touchdown. Yet from this very first snuggle, all of these complex feelings of terror and uncertainty seemed to slip away. I was holding a real-life cherub. A tiny, perfect ray of sunshine. I blinked back at her through stifled sobs and found myself thinking about how I would do anything – literally anything – for this stranger in my arms.
But I missed a lot. For the first 3 years of Charlie’s life, I lived 692 miles away from her. Bedtime FaceTime calls were responsible for about 99% of my phone bill. Then the pandemic hit, I left my job, and became lucky enough to spend 6 months living just a few feet from her. When my brother and sister-in-law decided to withdraw her from their small, home-based child care center (run entirely by one elderly, immunocompromised woman) I became her caregiver. Yep, they asked me to watch her during the day while they worked hard to keep several businesses afloat amidst COVID-19.
OF COURSE I WILL WATCH HER! Are you kidding me?! This kid hung the moon and the stars. We spent months picking wildflowers, playing dollhouse, taking bubble baths, spinning in circles, building sandcastles on the beach, drinking out of the water hose in the garden, having sleepovers, drawing on the driveway in chalk, playing tag, doing messy science experiments, learning how to swim, polishing our nails, memorizing the names of all the dinosaurs, reading, eating ice cream for dinner, and watching almost everything on Disney+.
Let’s just say that “best friends” is the understatement of the century when it comes to
describing my relationship with Charlie. She confides in me about her secrets, mistakes, and fears. She reminds me to always say yes to every adventure and carbohydrate. She
continually shows me the importance of asking for forgiveness, not permission. She hypes me up… while simultaneously humbling me. She gives me fresh, unfiltered advice on love troubles and work worries. And she always, ALWAYS encourages me to be myself.
In return, I am her safety net, her biggest fan, and her spontaneous relief. She can come to me when she has a question she’s too embarrassed to ask her Mom. She knows I will listen to anything, at any time, with zero judgment. I am always there to step in when Mom and Dad are being “annoying” or “unreasonable.” I am several roles packaged up in one: mother, sister, therapist, playmate, friend, and teacher.
I don’t know if I’ll ever have children. At 28 years old, I am still undecided. Crippling anxiety and selfish tendencies tend to keep those thoughts at bay. She is enough for now. More than enough.
To all my hard-working mamas out there: Thank you.
Thank you for wiping their bums.
Thank you for letting the aunts and uncles of the world sneak out when the waterworks start.
Thank you for giving us the best gift of our lives.
To my Charlie girl: I’m sorry.
Just when I thought 692 miles was hard… living 1,897 miles from you now kills me. You are
growing up, experiencing so much, and learning about this scary world… and I am missing it again.
But thank you.
Thank you for our beautiful summer together.
Thank you for this incredible, irreplaceable bond I never imagined for myself.
Thank you for being the best friend a girl could ask for.
Madeleine moved to Arizona from Georgia in September 2020 to join Candelen, a child
services nonprofit, as the Communications & Brand Specialist. She enjoys starting her day with several (yes, several) iced coffees, attending concerts, brewery hopping, paddle
boarding, camping without cell service, hiking with her pups, thrifting, an incredible plate of
nachos, and collecting plants.