13 Going On (Insert your age)

Yesterday I returned from a trip to New York City with my niece Jana, where we celebrated her 13th birthday. We had a blast! This was Jana’s first trip to New York – where she experienced some other firsts including her first cab ride and her first Broadway show.

We saw Wicked, did the NBC Studio Tour where we saw the SNL and Today show studios, took amazing pictures from the top of the Empire State Building, met LOTS AND LOTS of celebrities (statues that is…at the Wax Museum)…and shopped until we dropped. Jana even got to meet a bunch of famous “Viners” in the Village and wound up in one of their videos. If you don’t know what Vine is…sorry – that would take way too much explaining and is NOT what this blog post is about. And if you aren’t a teenager, or don’t have a teenager – you don’t want to know anyway.

The 82 Floor Observatory at the Empire State Building
The 82 Floor Observatory at the Empire State Building

I stole the idea of taking my nieces and nephews on a trip for their 13th birthday from my friend Megan. When she shared the idea with me a few years ago, I immediately starting making plans with my oldest nephew Joseph, whom I took to Chicago last summer.

In Chicago, Joseph and I saw the Tigers play the Cubs at Wrigley, went to the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, the Museum of Science & Industry, the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Shedd Aquarium AND the top of the Sears (technically the Willis Tower – does anyone even call it that?) Tower. We also saw at least three 3D movies (fell asleep during one of them) and got free Conan shirts from a vending machine on the street. All in three days. Aren’t you tired just reading about it??

From the top of the Sears (aka Willis) Tower
From the top of the Sears (aka Willis) Tower

Because I don’t have children, I have showered my nieces and nephews with my maternal energy since they were born…and as many of my friends can vouch – I have also adopted their children as my extended niece and nephew family. These special trips with the kids are just as much for me as they are for them. Part of me is probably subconsciously making sure the kids don’t forget me about me eventually in my old age if I don’t end up with children of my own…But truly, these relationships are so important to me that they truly are a big part of who I am.

Turning 13 is a big milestone for a kid. I remember when I turned 13 myself and can vividly recall the challenges of middle school. Are you cringing like I am remembering what it was like?? Yikes I don’t want to do that again! And I didn’t have to deal with a fraction of what kids have to deal with today…

A major reason I do this trip is to recognize the kids for this rite of passage, and to strengthen our bond before they enter a tough phase of their lives. I want to be sure that they know they have another person who cares deeply about them – someone that will be there if they find themselves in trouble and need help or advice. Plus, I want to have the right when/if they act out in their teenage years to call them out in a way that is different than a parent. Both Joseph and Jana have experienced this with me already – and I think they know what I mean!

I remember the first time I went to New York City with my family when I was 15, and remember taking pictures from the top of the World Trade Buildings, and seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time. I remember seeing my first Broadway show, A Chorus Line, with my mom and sister, and going to my first Yankees game via the Subway. I also remember my first time in Chicago during my freshman year of college at Notre Dame. My roommate Diane and I took a bus to Michigan Avenue for a day of sightseeing and shopping. I had never seen an 8-story department store before!

New York and Chicago became my favorite cities to visit over the years, and I wanted to Joseph and Jana to have similar experiences of their first trips that they will hopefully remember when they are my age and much older. Through these trips, I want my nieces and nephews to start to see the world as a big place that is entirely accessible and full of possibility for them.

I can’t wait (though my pocket book can) for when my younger nephews and niece Dillon, Bridget and Trevor are old enough for their trips. I look forward to making similar memories with them, and to re-living my trips with Joseph and Jana over the years.

And in the meantime, as always, I look forward to my regular day to day lives with ALL of my nieces and nephews – Sessa’s and Cugliari’s, and all of my adopted ones too. I hope they know and feel how special each one of them is to me.

Signed, Auntie Laurie