Last night my parents called me. But it wasn't one of their usual phone calls, oh no. They were babysitting my 8 year old niece because it was a snow day in Virginia, and so they put the poor girl through the torture of calling me. And for a very special treat, they dialled the number and handed the phone to her so she could say hello when I picked up. Well, of course I didn't pick up, my husband did, and so my darling niece had all the awkwardness of an unexpected conversation with someone she barely knows.
My niece hardly enjoys talking to me on the phone, and it isn't because she doesn't like me. It is because in her eight short years we have only had the privilege of a few brief visits together, and all these visits occuring before the age of six, so I hardly made much of an impression. Sure, I have the allure of being her aunt who lives in Greece, and she doesn't mind hearing stories about me or looking at pictures. But when it comes to talking on the phone, well, that is where all the pleasantries end.
I've told my parents and my brother time and time again to please not force her to talk to me if she doesn't want to. Sure, sometimes she gets a wild hair up her butt and will talk to basically anyone who crosses her telephone path, but most of the time she just has nothing to say. But the reason I don't want her to be forced to talk to me stems from my own childhood memories - all the aunts and uncles and friends of the family that I hardly knew from Adam who just had to talk to me. I brewed quiet resentment against these people, and plotted my revenge for whatever future visit might come my way. Not only that, but these people had to talk to me like I was some kind of an idiot. I suppose it is what adults do when they talk to children, but geez, I was one of those "magnet" children for god's sake. My IQ was higher than the lot of these people combined (ok, so maybe it wasn't, but really). Knowing this, I vowed to just talk straight to any children who had the misfortune of making conversation with me.
So, what did I do last night? I proceeded to talk to my niece like an idiot, asking her what she wanted for Christmas and if she is ready for Santa, and that she better hurry or Santa and the elves won't have time to make it before Christmas. Do you know what her reply was? "Well, if Santa is as smart as he is supposed to be, he'll already know what I want. I've just been too busy to write a letter".
Yes, I realized quickly what I had done, and hated myself for it. I made up for it a bit later in the conversation when I heard my dad prompting her to tell me something, and I asked her if Pop pop was busy trying to tell her what to say. She found this funny, so I suppose I gained some faction back. But then I realized I had no idea what to talk to her about, and prodded her to get my mother on the phone.
Maybe I am as uncomfortable with the whole thing as she is. I'm not sure if that makes me feel better, or worse. I am supposed to be the adult here. By the time she reaches her teens, I figure I'll have something to talk to her about, since I still feel like a teenager myself. I just hope it gets easier. I don't want to be a stranger to my niece forever.