Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Twelve

You’ve heard me talk about The Kid on here before. The Kid is my cousin Kate, who is turning 12 today. When she was born I was still in high school and had very little interest in the little ball of baby on the floor. I was a teenager, I had other things to do, you know. My aunt brought her over to my house and given the fact that my aunt hadn’t recently given birth, I asked what the baby was all about. “She’s my granddaughter.” “How long are you taking care of her?” “Just a little while.”

A little while turned into 12 years. And that little baby turned into a little adult. Right before my eyes. (Is it me, or is 12 years old a lot older than it used to be?)

You go through your days, you want them to matter, you want to feel like something you are doing might actually mean something beyond this 24 hours you are living. And I must say, you will be hard pressed to find a better way to spend those days than by being a part of a kid’s life. Those little days, those hours of games here, minutes of random conversation there, seconds of hugs and “I love you”s, they all add up to something.

Kate didn’t have a lot of people she could count on and I made a promise a long time ago that I would be one of those people. Of all the twists and turns my life has taken this last decade that promise has been one of the few consistencies. And I know for a fact that it has made me a better person. You look at the world differently when you’ve made a kid an important part of your life. Some things matter more, some things matter less. You make decisions differently when you know there is someone who is looking up to you. This isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but I don’t know if I would have learned a lot of things as early as I did if I didn’t have Kate in my life.

It seems weird to me that she is already 12, that the time has passed so quickly. But I look forward to it continuing to pass. I look forward to continuing to watch her grow into who she will ultimately be. People always say they have their favorite ages of kids, but I’ve never really had a favorite age. Whatever age she is right now is my favorite, because it’s just so much fun to watch her morph into a little person. I see kindness in her, and humor. And that’s all I really need. The kid has a good heart and the ability to be sarcastic. My work here is done.

In April Kate came out to New Orleans with my family and friends. She was the only kid in the group. I wondered how she would do, as manual labor isn’t the best way for a kid to spend her vacation. The first day she grabbed a shovel and started mixing cement next to a man more than double her size. She exhausted herself, but she didn’t complain (any more than the aching adults). Then the next day she was the first back to work before lunch was over, ready to hammer some nails. During down time she explored the neighborhood where we were working, moving slowly through the remains of dozens of families, a very privileged kid taking in what it means to lose everything.

A month or so later she spent three weeks in Africa with my aunt and some other people. (Are you jealous of the 12 years old’s travel schedule yet? I am.) During their trip they visited an orphanage, where Kate fell in love with all the kids.

This weekend she’s having a birthday party. (“I’m having the big one this year, with all the family and stuff, so that next year, when I’m 13, I don’t have to have adults, just my friends.” (Ahhhhh the teenage years)) On her invitation there is a picture of Kate holding a kid at the orphanage. Below that it reads, “Instead of gifts, please make a donation to the African orphanage we visited, together we can make a difference.” The invitation is on my fridge, it will stay there long after the party is over.

Don’t get me wrong, the kid isn’t perfect. But at the end of my days, when I’m wondering if they’ve mattered, all I need to do is look at that kid and I know. Thanks for letting me come along for the ride Miss Kate, nothing and no one has made me prouder.

I look forward to the rest of the trip.

Happy Birthday.

4 comments:

Patricia said...

happy birthday, kate! you have a very cool cousin. it must run in the family.

tornwordo said...

A very happy birthday to Kate. Sounds like a great young lady.

teri said...

Yes, Kate is a sweet girl - having met her I can attest to that. However, as a mother of a 12-year-old, I must say to you Dawn - you don't live with a 12-year-old 24/7. I DO! Some days I wonder if what I do for her will make a difference in her life that she will notice one day. Right now - i mostly get the cold shoulder and eye rolls! Yes, the joys of motherhood.

teri said...

P.S. your blog made me cry. Happy Birthday Kate, by the way.