There's something extraordinary about being an aunt to a 5-year-old, but I've learned it's even more special if you live exactly 200 miles away from one another.
For the better part of my auntie-hood, I've lived in San Luis Obispo while my nephew Miles Sanchez is growing up in Torrance—in Los Angeles County.
Although 200 miles is nothing—and let's be honest it's just a three and a-half to four-hour drive away—I visit my family about five to six times a year. Which is a lot, compared to some that might have family out of state, but to a 5-year-old it's not enough.
You see, I split my usual four-day visits between my parents, siblings, aunt, and Miles. To be fair, I spend most of that time with him and my parents.
Visits with my nephew are something I look forward to, especially because he doesn't want to sit next to anyone else, hold anyone else's hand, or play with anyone else but me.
But when it's time for me to leave, he furrows his brow, looks down, and filled with sadness he never fails to ask me, "Why don't you live close to me like uncle, nana, and papa?" Crushed, I usually reply by telling him I have bills to pay and a job that I really enjoy. He's never satisfied with that answer.
The soul-crushing questions started about two years ago, and it made me realize that I want to do more than just talk over the phone and occasionally Facetime with him.
So I decided that I want to make the trip to visit my family, more importantly my nephew, as often as I can—and I recently found the perfect opportunity.
Miles is at such an interesting age where he can really express himself conversationally and figure out what his interests are by trying new things.
His newest interest is basketball, and at the beginning of the year he joined a local youth team.
On Feb. 22 I woke up at 5 a.m. and hit the road by 5:30 to make it to his 10 a.m. game. Miles had no idea my boyfriend and I were making the early drive to support him and his team that morning.
When he opened the door of his house, at the request of my sister, Miles' first question was how we got to his house and the next was if we were going to watch his basketball game. He was beaming and instantly attached himself to my hip.
On the way to the basketball court at the Dee Hardison Sports Center, Miles showed us his techniques for playing defense—spreading his arms out from his sides—and shooting the ball into the basket—a slight flick of the wrist.
Clearly I know nothing about basketball, but not to worry. My nephew said all I would have to do is watch his game and I would learn.
What I enjoyed most about watching the game was how much fun Miles and his team were having and the support shown by the parents.
Sure, the coaches would remind the kids where to go on the court or to hold their positions, but it wasn't aggressive or negative. It really felt like a place where an interest and a possible passion could be cultivated—if that's the child's desire. The competitiveness can come later.
When the game was over, Miles ignored his parents congratulating him on a good game and ran straight to me to say, "And that's how you play basketball, auntie. What did you think?"
I spent the rest of the day with him practicing shooting baskets, playing with his Hot Wheels, cuddling on the couch, and dancing in the car to his favorite songs.
When it's time for me to leave, Miles hands me a drawing he made for me and sadly asked when I would drive down from San Luis Obispo next. Sooner than you think, kid. Δ
Staff Writer Karen Garcia promptly put her gifted drawing on her fridge at email@example.com.