My niece Brianna just turned 13.
At Mile Marker 5200, I trail behind her through the narrow aisles of Primark, her favorite store in the mall. She peruses the graphic tees, torn denim shorts, and skinny jeans, handing them to me one by one. We carry an armful into the fitting room.
This is her birthday present -- shopping -- because at 13, she has a style all her own. (Well, technically it's a style she shares with most of her friends, but you get the idea!) Plus, I'm a shopper too. We have that in common.
If you know a 13-year-old, you can probably guess where we're headed...
|Starbucks Frappy Hour!|
Brianna lives in the far suburbs, at least an hour's drive from Philly, so coming into the city is a big deal. We don't see each other as often as we'd like.
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When I was discharged, we worried about what to tell her and how to talk about my missing leg. I used to take her to the sprinkler park and the ice skating rink. She loved the aunt I was "before." What would she think of me now?
We didn't have to worry. Not really. My sister-in-law, Amy, gave Brianna the heads-up in kid-appropriate language. The doctors couldn't fix my leg, so they had to take part of it off. (I've used that same sentence to explain it to many kids since!)
To our surprise, Brianna's reaction was equally understated. At first she asked, "Why are your jeans wearing a ponytail?"
Later, when I showed her my new prosthetic "robot leg," she concluded, as only a 6-year-old could, "It would be cooler if you had two robot legs."
That was it. End of story. For her anyway.
For me it was just the beginning. I spent the next few years busy with rehab, caught up in my own recovery. I didn't have the confidence or stamina to take her places anymore. We drifted apart.
And she grew up.
This is our first weekend together in a long time. (Maybe ever.) We rack up 4 miles.
We get dumplings in Chinatown.
Go rock climbing together.
|Brianna can belay now!|
Sure, I'm the adult here. The expert on city life. But the physical part is still challenging. In the sweltering heat, we drive instead of walk. We plan our activities around shade and air-conditioning. I stop to readjust my leg every few hours. Brianna waits patiently, scrolling through her phone like a typical teen. Although I wonder what she's thinking, she seems to accept my differences in the same matter-of-fact way she did when she was six.
When bedtime comes, I set her up in the guest room with a book-light and a worn hardback copy of Judy Bloom's Tiger Eyes, one of my own favorites at 13. It's the story of a girl with a loss so big, she wonders how she'll ever go on. Brianna says she likes it so far.
I take comfort in numbers. Back in my hospital days, a wise surgeon told me the number 13 was lucky. Granted, he was just trying to allay my fear about another surgery, but the idea stuck with me.
Brianna and I are forging a bond again. At 13, she towers above me in height. She wears a much bigger shoe size. She can out-shop me at the mall and drink me under the table in Frappuccinos. Yet somehow, for some reason, she still looks up to me.
Thirteen feels more than lucky. It feels like the right place to start.