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My niece drove up from Tucson to spend her birthday weekend with me. Her name is Shanna and before I proceed, it’s imperative that we all pronounce her name correctly: it rhymes with Ghana, a pronunciation point she’s been making since she was ten: “It doesn’t rhyme with banana! And if it sounded like ‘Rayna’ or ‘Layna’ it would have a ‘y’ in it! C’mon people!” Now she’s thirty-two and teaches high school chemistry. How did this happen? She was just in diapers…and I was changing them.
Shanna and I are both originally from Minnesota. She’s been in Arizona for a couple years now. When we talk on the phone or in person, my oldest sister becomes “your mom”, and my parents become Grandpa and Grandma. This makes me feel removed from my normal everyday role of sexy divorcee and more like Mrs. Doubtfire. I was the baby in our family before Shanna came along; neither one of us are babies anymore.
However, it’s still up to Auntie Kate to introduce the occasional new food into Shanna’s diet, just as I used to dip the little spoon into pureed carrots and peas and choo-choo them into her mouth. This weekend it was beets: Shanna had never tried beets.
I was making Chicken Surprise, just sautéed chicken combined with a bunch of steamed vegetables with Parmesan cheese mixed in. That’s it—a simple dish. The beets stood out very colorfully among the other vegetables: yellow squash, mushrooms, onions. There was no question about what the main ingredient was in that night’s version of Chicken Surprise: beets.
As aunties do, I set the table and filled our glasses and soon enough dished up my Chicken Surprise. Shanna loved it! It warmed my heart to see her eat with such gusto, as if Chicken Surprise was better than pizza or even jalapeno hotdogs from Circle K…which I knew in my heart it was not. Still, I was thrilled that my niece had grown up to such a point where she was not just eating all of her vegetables, but all by herself and with a fork no less. It was a proud moment.
The evening wore on and soon it was time for bed. I put a couple extra blankies in Shanna’s room because she gets cold at night, and set up a fan next to her bed because she likes white noise. I turned in first because that’s what elderly aunties do while the young folk stay up and do crossword puzzles. Crazy kids.
I fell into a deep sleep almost immediately, and have no idea how much time may have passed when I heard a few knocks on my bedroom door, which then flew open without my saying anything. There was Shanna’s silhouette in my doorway, backlit by the hallway light.
“I’m bleeding internally!” she shouted.
“You’re what?” I mumbled.
“I’m bleeding internally! I just went to the bathroom and everything—everything—came out red! Bright red!”
“It’s the beets,” I said in monotone, wanting this crazy child to leave me in peace.
“No way!” she protested, wanting to be right. She always wants to be right. “I’m also feeling faint and my heart is racing!”
“It’s the beets,” I repeated. “Do you want me to take you to the emergency room?” I could not fathom getting up and taking her to the emergency room, sitting there for hours in the middle of the night, waiting our turn to finally get called back. The gurney, the blood tests, the oxygen tubes for Shanna’s faintness, all to find out that she’d shit beets.
But I would take her if she wanted me to.
Reason seemed to have taken hold of Shanna by this time; she was no longer an agitated silhouette in my doorway, but a still one. “I guess I just got freaked out because it was all bright red and stuff, but now that I know I’m not bleeding, I’ll be okay. Thanks Auntie. ‘night.”
With that, my bedroom door clicked shut and I was left alone again, snuggled under the covers with my own extra blankies, my own fan whirring to make the white noise I like too. I fell asleep thinking, I’m so glad I don’t have kids, knowing that if I did, I would want them all to be like Shanna.
Happy birthday, kiddo.
And one more last little laugh...