This picture isn’t really the cutest or most entertaining of the more than 150 photos (you read that right) that I took yesterday as Kathy and I spent the day with our niece Lorelai. There are cute shots of her feeding the birds in the aviary, of petting the goats, of taking the zoo train with me, and of her reading the zoo map and explaining to us where we were and where we were headed next. But to me this picture is among the most precious because it really captures something I both love and envy about the relationship which Lorelai has with her Aunt Kathy – the complete and utter trust which is there. This is taken at one of the more interesting pieces of playground equipment at the zoo – a sort of space ship-shaped set of monkey bars and plastic tunnels which Lorelai took to like she was Lieutenant Uhura herself. . . except for the matter of the exit, which appeared to be pretty treacherous to a four and a half year old. But my wife was right there and knew just what to say and do to assure Lorelai that she could not be safer with her Aunt Kathy on the scene. And sure enough, a second after this shot was snapped, Lorelai happily leapt into Kathy’s awaiting arms. . . and a few seconds after that was already climbing into this contraption just so she could do it all again. Lorelai trusts her Aunt Kathy almost as much as she trusts her own mom and dad. And that’s really saying something.
Part of it is that my wife has such a gift for this sort of thing. Another is that she has experience, having worked with about a million elementary age kids over the last twenty-plus years – so she knows how they tick. And maybe the most important thing of all is that she knows Lorelai in a way that I don’t because I haven’t taken the time it requires to deeply understand what delights her, what scares her, and just how she’s wired. I know she likes pink…. I know she likes princesses…. I know she would go swimming in their pool every day of the year if her parents would allow her to…. I know she likes “Charlie and Lola” and “Little Einstein” …. I know she sings like a bird, managing even the big octave leap in “Happy Birthday” better than some adults I know….. and I know that she never forgets anything, so you have to be really careful what idle promises you make about “maybe tomorrow” in the hopes that she’ll forget about whatever it is she hopes to do. I know all that- but I don’t know how she’s wired the way Kathy does- and I am not able to truly feel what Lorelai feels the way Kathy can and does.
Moreover, my nickname should probably be Uncle Sarcastic because of all the joking around I do with her- saying things like “you can put your suitcase in the garage, Lorelai, since that’s where you’ll be sleeping tonight” and stuff like that. It just surges out of me like some form of Tourette’s Syndrome – but because of that I sometimes wonder if I will ever be someone to whom Lorelai will go running – to whom she would turn if she were really scared – because of all that joking and joshing. I’m the comedian- but Kathy is the consummate aunt. . . and I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: when Kathy and Lorelai are together I so often find myself just hanging back and watching them (and eavesdropping) with delight and admiration for the surprisingly deep connection which those two have. And for as delightfully exhausting as the last two days have been having her here, it only reminded us of how much this precious girl means to us and how fortunate we feel that we can be a meaningful part of her story. . . Kathy as the Loving, Adored Aunt – and me as the Goofy, Bumbling, but Always-Means-Well Uncle.
pictured above: Kathy and Lorelai at the Racine Zoo. Lorelai was our overnight guest while her folks were attending an out-of-town wedding.