Sheridan’s Compass

sweet-3406860_640The following essay was written almost seven years ago; yet, all of the characteristics that made my niece Sheridan exceptional then still hold true today as she turns fourteen. And I’m sure those  traits will only strengthen over the years, making her a constant joy to everyone who knows her! Happy birthday, Sheridan!


Sheridan’s Compass (written during the fall of 2011)

“Turn right, Aunt Erin,” seven-year-old Sheridan said.

She wore a black leotard, matching leggings, a filmy ballet skirt, and cowboy boots—or “cowgirl boots” as she called them. Ballet slippers dangled from her fingers; her hair escaped from a messy ponytail. She was on her way—Sheridan style—to ballet class.

“I mean,” Sheridan clarified, “turn my right.”

I hesitated. We sat side by side—she in the passenger seat, me in the driver’s seat. Her right was my right. What was I missing? ballet-shoes-2326987_640.jpg

She turned to me, blinked once–blue eyes, black lashes, a flutter of day and night. I didn’t question her directions, her misunderstanding of the term “my right.” I simply turned the truck, following Sheridan’s GPS, her way of seeing the road.

I’ve learned from experience that Sheridan’s internal compass often leads to a better place—even if you’ve been there before—and sometimes it’s best to just let her take you there.

A simple game of tag evolves into Cartwheel Tag. We never quite decided whether the tagger or tagee should be cartwheeling, but both ways ended in confusion and plenty of laughs, particularly at my attempts to cartwheel.

Or a bike ride to town transforms into an outing for root-beer floats with Sheridan, on her single-speed bicycle, always ready to tackle hills and singing B-I-N-G-O with Uncle Keith as she peddles along.

One Christmas, using her new tablet as a camera, Sheridan filmed the Snowman Video. A stuffed snowman took the starring role with Sheridan as interviewer.

“How’s it going?” she asked Mr. Snowman.

“Pretty good,” Mr. Snowman said in a deep, gravelly voice.

She used the same tablet to document The Many Faces of Sheridan, a tableau of close-up photographs, which grew into an autobiographical mini-documentary of Sheridan through several days of late December and into early January. All the photos shared two things: a hint of mischief and a literal twinkle in Sheridan’s eye, the look of someone planning fun, thinking of the next activity.

watercolour-2159970_640So I don’t question Sheridan when she says, “turn right, my right.” Even if it appears that our rights are the same, hers is bound to have a twist, a way of approaching life that is more original, more energetic… just more of everything. I simply turn the wheel and follow her lead, knowing the experience will be better for letting her take me there.

A Sierra Day: Recognizing Life’s Adventures

Written about 13 years ago, the following essay was inspired by my niece Sierra, who turns 17 today. Even as a three-year-old, she possessed an innate ability to view the world as full of possibilities, not limitations, just one of the qualities that makes her an exceptional person. Kindness, loyalty, and a clever wit also dominate that long list. Her thoughtfulness shines on everyone around her, reflecting a selfless nature and the gift that she is to all who love her.

Happy Birthday, Sierra!

~

What’s it Called?

(Written during the spring of 2004.)

“Is today your birthday?” my three-year-old niece Sierra asks. She presses against my legs and looks up at me with a hopeful smile.

“Yes,” I say, peering down into her blue eyes, a blue that’s hard to define, like the sky filtered through a gray cloud.

“What’s it called?” She confuses me with the redundancy of her question. I frown, not sure what to say, and during my hesitation, she adds, “Mine’s called Barbie Birthday.”

“The name of your birthday is Barbie Birthday?” I ask.

“Yes.” She pauses and stares at me expectantly.

Shaelyn, Sierra’s older sister, catches on quickly to the game. “Let’s call it the Flower Birthday,” she says, gesturing to the pink tulips that sit on top of the dining room table, which is painted with orange flowers.

I nod and Sierra smiles. Finally, my birthday has a name, a theme. “Or how about Tulip Birthday? Or Birds of Prey Birthday?” I ask, the latter suggestion in honor of the wildlife refuge we had visited earlier in the day. Sierra thinks this over and seems pleased with the ideas.

She likes events and even objects to have a theme. Maybe it comes from having a creative mother, who often discusses decorating schemes or an imaginative grandmother, with whom she spends a great deal of time.

Regardless of where she gets this trait, I like it. I want my days to have themes: Cycling on a Summer Day or Watching a Bald Eagle Afternoon. It makes ordinary events somehow new and exciting. Running to the post office is no longer an errand, but rather A Short Drive to Check the Mail. It’s like a chapter in a novel, anything can happen.

I need Sierra to live with me. I want to hear that simple question, “What’s it called?” more often. It makes me appreciate each moment, where seen through her eyes it becomes a journey in need of a title.

Next time Sierra asks me, “What’s it called?” I’ll be ready with my answer. I’ll look into those blue-gray eyes and say, “It’s a Sierra Day.” Although she might not completely understand, I think she’ll appreciate my response.

Simply put, a Sierra Day is one brimming with wonder, with originality, of finding magic in the ordinary, and knowing with certainty that life’s adventures deserve to be named.