The first order of Valentine’s Day business is a realization: I’ve had some really unexpected Valentine’s Days.
There was the one that started with a photo shoot for a whiskey ad and ended at a Harlem Globetrotters game, with a bizarre pseudo-romantic (not at all romantic) run-in in between.
There was the one that started with hundreds of dogs and ended with free ice cream, with a cinematic random act of kindness in between.
There was the one that started with surprising Devin with a bottle of milk and ended with him surprising me with a carton of soymilk. (I didn’t blog about that one because it’s as straightforward as it sounds. Technically, it happened simultaneously, but you know, poetic license…)
This year I spent Valentine’s Day with my niece Leila on her first birthday, and it was wonderful.
I love visiting my cousin Vanessa (a.k.a. Leila’s mom) because we have similar tastes and interests, but she’s one million times cooler and more collected than I am. Visiting her is like glimpsing an alternate reality where I spend less time asking “What if?” and more time asking “Who cares?” That sounds funny to say because Vanessa’s very responsible, but she’s super carefree about it (and she literally smiles and says “Who cares?” in response to all my worries, which is exactly what I need to hear). Josh, my cousin-in-law, is a master of deadpan pranks, so their house is always full of laughter, albeit at my expense!
This weekend I got to assist them in throwing a party featuring pink and hearts and the most ridiculous piñata I’ve ever seen.
The party was on Saturday (the 13th), and Leila partied so hard that she slept in on her birthday the next day. Vanessa asked me to watch her while she took a shower because Leila was sleeping in her parents’ bed. I was only with her for a few minutes before she woke up. She looked scared, but somehow I calmed her down before she cried. We looked at each other for a little bit, and then she reached out to hold my index finger and smiled and laughed and talked to me in baby babble.
When I got to Vanessa’s house on Thursday, the first thing I noticed was a print of three sisters hanging in Leila’s room. I knew immediately that she’d bought it to symbolize my mom and her two sisters (sometimes we call our aunts the tías-mamás because we are so close to all of them). I love knowing that Vanessa loves my aunts and mom like I love them. I love thinking about Leila growing up with so many abuelitas, but thinking about this, and remembering that I live far away from all my sobrin@s, hurts.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get to live close to Leila. I don’t know if she’ll ever rely on me the way I do on my aunts. I don’t know if I’ll ever earn a place on her wall.
But I think I was the first person she saw on her first birthday. And she smiled and held my hand.