In 2003 my mother and I committed to adopting my then three months old niece. I hadn’t any plans to procreate, and I still don’t. However, I am grateful to have her. Having her has taught me (or reaffirmed) that having a child is no light matter. It is profound and will expand you in ways that you couldn’t have imagined. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, “self” is all but removed from the equation when a child enters your world. When you truly look at a child and the impact you have on them, it can be painfully enlightening. I have issues that are being worked out because of her. For example: my experiences have driven me to prefer to be alone. I’d moved away for four years, and being alone was fine. Since I’ve moved back I’ve come to realize that I cannot shut down, because my shutting down affects her. She had nothing to do with my childhood, so there is no reason that she should suffer for it. It can be physically painful for me to be present, but I don’t care and I’m willing to do what I have to for her sake. She’s indirectly forcing me to understand that I’m capable of approaching life without hiding. Her innocence in everything seems to make my pain nothing but a side note. I’m angry at the fact that I wasn’t raised in a particularly healthy environment. I’m more angry that I have to constantly fight the dysfunctional cycles that shaped me, so that I don’t make her into what I am. I’m thankful for having been given the opportunity to recognize the dysfunction of my early life for what it was, and to have been given the tools to recognize and change the effects of said dysfunction. My niece has always had a lightness to her; a lightness that I couldn’t carry beyond five years old. Our childhoods are vastly different and I don’t see her becoming what I am; but I want to at least provide her a real sense of safety in the world and deep love for herself. Admittedly, when she feels the things that normal tween/teen girls feel, it crushes me. I want to run away from the world because I’m afraid to watch her go through pain. I know that this fear stems from my own inner children’s experiences and views of the world. I strongly believe in her demonstrated ability to cycle through the ups and downs healthily, but I internalize these things as dire situations because trauma is what I knew in my early years. I look at her sometimes and think, “How are you over this already?” I legitimately admire her resilience. I encourage her to process and understand her feelings, and hopefully find their roots. I believe that if I’d known how to articulate what was happening inside of me as a child, I may not have gone through so much of my life with a vague feeling that something was attached to me. In a sense it was, because I didn’t know what to call it other than sadness. I didn’t think to connect the pain to anything deeper than the moment– let alone my memories’ effects on my body chemistry. I had no idea that my constant replaying of pain had been effectively carving neural pathways that would make pain my primary identity. Growing up I knew that things weren’t quite right, but I figured that that’s just the way it was. That said, I have to be mindful of not projecting my childhood existence on my niece. She’s like me in a lot of ways, yet so different. My conditioned nature dictates that I be afraid of all of the uncertainties surrounding her future (and everything ever). I won’t pretend that I’m any good at this parenting thing. However, my most authentic adult self dictates that I will do my best, allow her to be who she is, try to understand her as best as possible from her own perspective, help her to understand herself and her world, love and support her, listen to her, and give her the tools that she needs to navigate the world in a healthy and productively enjoyable way. I hope and pray that she always loves life and lives it beautifully. I get the feeling she’ll be just fine.