The night before I returned home, my seven year old niece said she had a secret to tell me.
When she shared this news, she had been an absolute pill for going on an hour. Her latest joy was spinning in the living room while holding a cup of gelato in one hand and a spoon in the other. Her father, my brother-in-law, finally told her to stop because she was going to spill one, drop the other, or both.
I understand she gets excited when I visit – I am, after all, the Coolest Aunt in the World ™ – but this time I was fresh from getting a new tattoo, a little tired, and unable to accommodate her every child’s whim. Not that I’d do that under normal conditions anyway, but I was a bit less patient this time around.
So, upon hearing she was keeping a thought for my ears only, my brain went immediately to Louis CK’s dark and brilliant comedy, specifically to his jokes about his own young daughter saying she had a secret just for him. Paraphrasing the actual line, what occurred to me was, “You are seven. What could you possibly have to tell me that is of any import whatsoever?”
While this passed through my mind, she disappeared into the kitchen, returned without the gelato or the spoon, and sidled up next to me on the couch. She got very close to my ear, looked around to make sure no one was listening, and said:
“I hate it when parents are right.”
I laughed out loud and nodded at her. “Me too, hon. But you’ll get used to it eventually.”
Just a bit later, I went to the bathroom to remove the bandage on my new ink and put more ointment on it. My niece – the only real reason I visit L.A. so often, really – asked me what took so long in the language of 7 year olds.
“Were you pooping?” she giggled. I giggled myself and said no, I wasn’t pooping. I followed her into her bedroom and explained I had an “owie” on my left hip that needed care. She wheeled around and asked excitedly, “Can I see it?!”
I felt her father cringe from the next room, but my sister, ever the practical and honest parent, joined us and patiently explained about permanent tattoos in Mom-to-kid speak.
“They’re like your water tattoos, baby, but they don’t ever wash off.”
My niece became absolutely insistent. “Can I SEEEEEE it?!” she said and started bouncing off the walls again.
I looked at my sister, who shrugged and didn’t say otherwise, so I glanced around to be sure Dad wasn’t really paying attention, then met my niece’s gaze and held my finger up to my lips. “Sssshh … ”
I quickly and quietly raised my skirt to reveal the brand-new tattoo, still eking ink and fluid. She didn’t say a word, so I lowered my skirt on that side and raised the other to show the matching tattoo I’d gotten on the other side last summer. “When it’s healed, it will look kinda like this,” I said under my breath.
“Wow,” she said, her eyes and mouth wide open.
A little more loudly, I said, “You don’t ever want tattoos, honey. They’re really expensive and they hurt.” I put extra emphasis on hurt. “They’re like a cut and a burn all at once.”
I meant it. They do hurt. But anyone who knows me understands I was allaying all parental fears that their little girl would grow up to be Lydia the Tattooed Lady.
One day my niece will be old enough to make her own decisions about such things, but for now, she’s a curious little girl who also happens to be intelligent enough to know when adults are lying to her. How did I arrive at this conclusion? She put her hand on her hip and said, “Why do you get them, then?”
“You caught me!” I laughed and shrugged. “But I’m not your parents. Remember the secret you told me earlier?”
“It’s true. And your parents are right most of the time. Don’t forget that, okay?”
She frowned in deep thought for a moment and said, “Okay.” Then all was forgotten and we played with puppets for a bit.
I would have made a great parent, no doubt, but I much prefer my role as it is. I also know this precocious, smart kid prefers it too.
For I am: The Coolest Aunt in the World ™.
That’s no secret.