LESLIE CRISS: Niece’s ‘Sweet 16′ is arriving way too soon

LESLIE CRISS

LESLIE CRISS

“A niece is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost.” – Anonymous

When my only sister’s only child was born at Baptist East Hospital in Memphis, she was several weeks premature.

That meant she had to spend the first week of her life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and her mama, recovering from an emergency C-section, was sent home to Corinth to convalesce.

Leaving that tiny baby was heartbreaking for everyone, but I imagine it was devastating for my sister.

Once Bailey Elizabeth Cook was released from the NICU, the spoiling by this proud aunt commenced. And a desire I’d never really felt before to defend and protect this niece of mine began to grow daily.

When Bailey the toddler went through a chubby stage and folks would comment on photos, “Well, you aren’t feeding her much, are you?” I wanted to make them sit down and hear the story of her birth. I wanted to tell them how grateful we were for that baby fat.

When I’d hear stories from my sister about how so-called friends had hurt Bailey’s feelings, I wanted to jump in my car and head to Huntsville, Ala., to both comfort my niece and chat with the young reprobates. If any of you have ever seen “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,” there’s a scene where the deranged governess takes care of a kid who hurts her charge. In my dreams, that’s what I’d do; in reality, I’m just not that kind of girl.

Until my niece was about 6 or so, her parents probably grew sick and tired of hearing folks talk about how much Bailey looked like me, her Aunt Lee Lee. It was, however, true.

As she grew older, she began looking like, well, Bailey. Tall and thin, with long blonde hair she will not cut, no matter the bribe. She has a quirky sense of humor and a huge heart for all manner of humanity.

She’s gone from wanting to be an artist to a paleontologist to a marine biologist to whatever she’s interested in these days. I’ve encouraged her to choose something profitable so she can take care of her parents – and me – in our old age.

When she was still a baby and was christened, I gifted her with the first three Nancy Drew mysteries. I’m sure some folks chuckled at that.

But the girl is a voracious reader and great lover of books. She’s read books already most folks read only as a college requirement.

On Wednesday, that once-premature baby girl will be – believe it or not – 16 years old.

I texted her mama earlier a week or so ago to ask for ideas for a birthday present.

Seems like only yesterday Bailey would be overjoyed with a singing sunflower or a Bouncing Tigger. But these days, I wouldn’t dare try to choose on my own.

Whatever the gift, she’ll receive it with the greatest of graciousness.

That’s just the kind of person she is.

Happy Sweet 16, Baily Peeps.

leslie.criss@journalinc.com