“Has DC livin morphed me into a sensitive male that was no longer recognizable to the day to day hard core Detroiter that my niece has grown accustomed to seeing?”
My niece has been my world since the day she was born. My amazing sister went into labor a day after I was home from my first semester away at Howard, so I was able to hold Her(niece) hours after she arrived. Once Her tiny eyes open and locked on to me, it was a wrap, that I would not be AN uncle but be THE Uncle.
When she was age 3, I called off sick from a job where I was already on probation to drive from DC to Detroit in the Midwest snow to spend Christmas day with Her. The time was spent with me wearing a wig at a tea party that included Her, a black barbie, and a rude My Little Pony doll who kept knocking over the beautiful play-a-long China.
A few years later, I was unable to watch my Detroit Lion’s first playoff appearance in nearly a decade because it was at the same time as an ICarly marathon. I could not even glance at twitter for highlights because she was playing Angry Birds on my iPhone.
Eating pancakes for dinner, spending countless hours in Forever 21, and only missing two birthdays in Her entire existence are just one of the few moments I’ve taken pride as an opportunity since becoming THE Uncle.
So imagine my surprise when one day after booking a ticket home, my then 12-year-old inspiration seemed less than enthused. At the moment, I could also see from the facetime that she was occupied doing Her hair, so I figured it was just part of being a typical unbothered pre-teen. So I repeated myself and said:
Hey, Princess. Did you hear me? I said I couldn’t wait to hug you as soon as I touchdown home!!!
She continued to slowly comb Her hair while looking in the mirror, humped Her shoulder with a slight breath, and said:
Yea, just make sure you don’t give me one of those DC hugs?
Confused by what a “DC hug” was, I asked Her to explain, and Her response was:
Well, Uncle, I’m not sure about how they do it in DC since you’ve been gone, but when you hug, you do this lean in….well I don’t know, it’s like you are all extra with it.
My Goliath’s heart had been stricken down by Her David’s comment. My number 1, my angel, my Princess had just split me in two. Did the only lady I’ve ever showcased social media affection tell me that I could not hug Her?!! Was this a foreshadowing of what was to come of Her teenage years? Have I been gone too long?!! Has DC livin morphed me into a sensitive male that was no longer recognizable to the day to day hard core Detroiter that my niece has grown accustomed to seeing?
My seconds of silence made my niece stop with Her hair and noticed by my facial expression that I was uneasy and said:
Oh, nevermind, Uncle, I was just joking with you.
It was right then when this young girl by condition tried to comfort me, that deep down, I begin to see as an early stage of pacifying.
I quickly sat up from being slumped over, gathered myself for a moment, collected my thoughts, then said:
You know Princess, there’s a lot of layers to what you said, and one day we’ll have a convo about them, but for now, the most important thing is for me to acknowledge your concern. And your concern should and will always be important to me. So I tell you what I’m gonna do. For now on whenever we see each other, I will always ask you if it’s ok to hug you and if you say yes, I will wait until you come to me, and I will follow your lead. Is that ok with you?
She then picked Her comb up, proceeded to brush, and said:
It had been a few years since that conversation, and each time we see each other, our exchange goes like such:
Me: Hello Princess
Her: Hello Uncle
Me: May I have a hug, Princess
Her: (Smiles) Yes, Uncle
Then she hugs me.
What I did not realize until time passed was that the heartache I experience in that brief moment was to open the door for growth in our uncle/niece relationship. Our communication since then has grown to be more engaging, where we have discussed stereotypes, levels of vulnerability, and various other mature subjects. What I accepted from that dialogue was that it was not about my feelings; it was about respecting Her voice. Once I got over my pride, I was able to see that discussion, however, the challenge was an opportunity to appreciate that my niece was expressing Her boundaries, and it was vital for me being THE Uncle to respect them to the highest and become the standard for all those to follow. Her voice had become a symbol of expression and a lesson that progression is never an absolute but a continuum.