January 11th, 2011

love a nerd

LJ Idol - Marching Orders

I first met my niece, Jezelle Grace, in July of 2009 when she was only a few months old. She wasn't at that fun age where you can hold at least a semblance of a conversation, she was mostly, to say it as nicely as possible, the cutest little lump of a baby girl I had ever seen. My sister-in-law was the way most new parents are with their first child, extremely protective and guarded about letting other people hold her. Plus, I was essentially a stranger.

A while ago, my brother Kevin called me and told me that Jezelle was pointing at a photo of me and smiling. He called me up on the phone on my way home from work, and I talked to him, and for a blessed few minutes, to my niece, who made a few cute baby sounds to me and squealed over the phone at me. And my heart melted. I was in love.

Now the cutest little lump of a baby girl I had ever seen is actually more of a little girl than a baby. Just over a year later she is surprisingly articulate, although it can be a little challenging to understand exactly what she's trying to say at times. She's running all over the place, chasing her cousin, keeping Oma and Opa (and for a few days, Uncle Mike and Aunt Corrie) highly entertained with her goings-on. I remember years ago when one of my dad's cousins was starting to organize a Schmidt family reunion and she requested that all the family members write a little something about themselves. I remember that Dad wrote "we love entertaining our daughter and watching her entertain us." Not having kids of my own, I didn't get that until spending that week in Spokane with my parents, my brothers and my nieces and nephews.

"Hey," my brother Kevin tells me on the phone. "I'm thinking about stopping by with the girls a little bit later. You guys don't have anything planned, do you?"

There's about twenty feet of snow outside and we have no plans with friends until tomorrow, and I tell him as much on the phone.

About thirty minutes later, he shows up with the baby (Khloe) in her car seat and Jezelle, all bundled up in her pink hat, scarf, gloves and coat. Dad starts asking her question after question, all of which she answers with "Oh, yes" which is really endearing. She got a toy kitchen as a Christmas present and Kevin had told Dad that she spent all day playing with it.

"So what did you make in your kitchen?" Dad asks her. "Did you make meatloaf?"

"Oh yes," Jezelle answers, walking through the kitchen into the family room and straight to Mom's toy nativity scene.

"What else did you make in your kitchen?" he asks. "Did you make pasta with caramelized onions and feta cheese?"

"Oh yes," she replies again, playing with the toy donkey and putting the angel on the roof of the manger, where if you push down on her just enough, "O Come All Ye Faithful" starts to play. It's fun for her, not quite as much fun for the adults in the room who have heard the song so many times they hear it in their dreams.

After a while, when she gets bored with the manger, she takes my hand and points down the stairs. "Play?" she commands with a mischievious grin on her face.

How can I say no?

I open the gate to the basement stairs. Jezelle and I walk down, hand in hand, into the basement where all my old toys are. The Fisher-Price record player with the hard plastic records that play "Camptown Races" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", among others. The bright orange plastic pay phone with the brightly colored nickels and dimes to put through the slot. The Fisher Price "little people" barn with the animals. The camp trailer. The airplane. I know that these were mine as a child - the date on the wing of the airplane says 1980, and I was still an only child then. My brother Ken wouldn't arrive until a year later.

"Shall we listen to music?" I ask her as I take the record player off the bookshelf and put it on the ground in front of her. I slide one of the plastic records out of their cubby in the back and put it on, twisting the knob so it will play.

She's not particularly interested in the record player, but the barn with all its animals is particularly fascinating. So is the airplane. We gather up the little people, which Mom always called weeble-wobbles, and put them in the plane and pretend that they're flying away.

"See?" I tell her. "This is how Uncle Mike and I got here."

I use my flight attendant voice. "Please make sure your seat belts are fastened and that your tray tables are in their full and upright positions for take off."

The plane picks up speed on the brown carpet runway and takes off into the air. I whistle the Air Force anthem while I pretend that they're flying. "And see?" I tell her as the plane comes in for a landing, "This is how we got here."

"Thank you for flying Fisher Price Airlines," I announce. "Have a safe trip!"

She giggles at me, and her child's laughter causes my heart to take flight.

We sit there and play for another half hour with the little people. It's such a simple thing.

Such a simple, magical thing.

She's got me wrapped around her little finger and knows it.

And the truth is that I wouldn't have it any other way.

Jezelle Grace Schmidt, December 31st, 2010