Two of my nine nieces have birthdays this month, including one I have never met who is the youngest in my brother’s family of 11 children. They live nearly 2,000 miles away in the northern reaches of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Their winters are harsh — like over 200-inches-of-snow and 20-degrees-below-zero harsh — and their summers are short. It’s just a difficult, and expensive, place to visit.
But family is family, no matter the distance, and I was feeling a bit melancholy about missing her first birthday last year. So I wrote her a poem to tell her how I felt.
I asked a lot of this poem.
I wanted it to be “singsong-y.” I wanted the sound of the words to appeal to a child, but I also sought a more serious undertone to reflect how quickly babyhood goes. Once it’s gone, it’s gone — and I was sorry I missed it.
When I was growing up, I had a few distant aunts who sent me cards, handmade gifts and family heirlooms for my birthdays. They made me feel special then, and even more special now that I’m an adult and I know how much time it takes not only to send “something,” but to send something meaningful.
I told you I asked a lot of this poem.
I wanted it to speak to my niece both now and in the future. I hope when she’s older she’ll read it and know she was special to me.
I wanted it to speak to my brother and sister-in-law. I wanted them to know I think a lot of my nieces and nephews. I wanted to speak to them parent to parent, to tell them I know what I’ve missed. And that I understand how hard it is to see your baby grow up, especially if she is your last.
Courage is what I’d like to give my niece for her birthday this year.
Why courage? Well, because after I wrote this poem last year, I was self conscious about sending it. So self conscious, that I actually emailed my brother and sister-in-law a couple days later and asked them to delete it. How crazy is that when I wrote it with the above intentions?! Yeah, crazy.
So here it is again now.
Happy birthday sweet girl. From your crazy Aunt Julie.
The first winter of Samantha Marie
Samantha Marie, who’s she?
A girl who looks like me
A super duper little one-year-old Yooper
blooming though the snow
and icy winds blow.
Samantha Marie, who’s she?
A survivor of blizzards
kept warm with the love
of 22 hands.
The kuopus** of the family clan.
Hold close that scrumptious infant glow.
Soon, summer will make its show
and that lovely baby charm in arms
(the newest generation on the farm)
will change the question from
Samantha Marie, where’s she?
Just the other day she was on our knee.
Like lickety-split, you see, she’s harefooted and free.
A toddler on the run
in the fleeting northern sun.
With lots of love on your first birthday,
*278” of snow as of 3/11/14
**Finnish for youngest child