Sunday, August 12, 2012
I just spent a delightful afternoon walking down memory lane. My five-year-old niece is visiting.
My niece and my teen daughter are very close. They are both only children, so they refer to each other as "sister cousins." Now to some, this phrase may evoke a backwoods clan with a rather loose interpretation of intermarriage. But, for all of us, it just reinforces a special bond the girls have despite nearly ten years difference in their ages.
Alas, my daughter is in the throes of an extended date with one David Copperfield. Yes, Charles Dickens' autobiographical novel was assigned as Summer reading for ninth grade Honors English. (There's nothing quite like lugging a 7 pound, 950 page book to the beach, is there?)
So, what's a visiting sister-cousin supposed to do? Play with her doting aunt, of course!
There was no need for me to plan ahead. A sentimentalist at heart, I've kept many of my own playthings not to mention my daughter's. It's not entirely my fault. Our school district's thrift shop won't accept toys anymore and neither will the local children's hospital. So, they sit here in fairly pristine condition, safely housed in labelled storage boxes, just waiting for young guests.
First, I got out the paper dolls. I adored paper dolls as a girl, spending hours cutting Betsy McCalls from my mother's magazines, then setting up a boarding school for them with decor and accessories clipped from the Sears Roebuck catalog. (Remember that massive tome?) My daughter was less than interested, despite a fairly impressive collection which included Jo, Beth, Amy and Meg from Little Women, great scenes from the ballet, Madeleine and Mary Engelbreit, among others. Which classic figures did my niece immediately gravitate towards? Barbie! Yes, that famous blonde's infamous curves are available in paper as well as plastic. And, her outfits? Let's just say that she should be able to make an excellent living on the Vegas strip.
When the paper dolls ceased to amuse, I sent my niece up to the little playroom under our eaves where my daughter keeps her American Girl doll collection. My niece insisted on undressing and re-dressing each doll, piling up elaborate hairdos and then putting them to bed. I surveyed the chaos (the room had been perfectly organized mere minutes before), and sighed with satisfaction. I firmly believe that toys — even overpriced "collectibles" — should be played with.
Next, we moved on to coloring books. We happily decorated flowers and fairies. Until, she found a fabric crate filled with Polly Pockets. The one in black boots and cropped blonde bob was Gwen Stefani. The rest of the dolls were her backup singers. I kid you not.
From there, we made necklaces and suncatchers with a never even opened tub of Perler beads. For the record, arranging the little plastic beads on the pegboard is a challenge for fifty-year-old fingers as well as five-year-old ones. And, the instructions say to iron the finished design for ten seconds on medium. Ha! Through much trial and error, I am here to tell you that it's more like ten minutes on high.
Finally, I pulled out a card deck and we played "War." It's a quick and easy game, and a great way to reinforce counting and math basics. (For the record, she whooped my sorry butt — then laughed her little head off because we said "butt.")
At this point, I was fairly wiped out. My daughter needed a break from Mr. Dickens and I happily handed off my charge. The last thing I saw was the two of them, curled up on the couch with goldfish crackers watching Scooby Doo.
My niece is a bright, verbal, energetic little thing. She can exhaust her parents with the best of them. But, while my brother and his wife were probably happy to have a bit of a respite, I had to warn them to treasure every minute. The time does fly.
And, whether they believe it or not (and I'm quite certain they do not) ... it's going to get so much harder.