This Side of the Pond – June 28

By Sarah Pridgeon

Some of you may be wondering how my little niece reacted to the gifts I took back to England, even though none of them were a hobby horse. I am pleased to report that I returned home with the title of “Best Aunt” still intact – and definitely not just because I’m the only aunt she has.

If you recall, I gave in to my brother’s “suggestion” not to bring Amelia Rose a hobby horse, even though I know she would have adored it. He failed to convince me that she’d knock over everything in the house, but won the day when he said she’d probably get bored within minutes.

Instead, I took her a picture book all about Wyoming, with images of the State Fair and Yellowstone and our very own Devils Tower. It was the husband’s idea, a way for her to learn about where Best Aunt lives and, perhaps, as she gets older, ask some questions before she gets to visit for herself.

This concept was complicated for a four-year-old. She liked the look of the book and took it from me willingly, but the look on her face was quizzical and it may be a while before she really gets the point. Her mum has promised to keep it safe in the meantime.

Suspecting this would be the case, we took a back-up gift: a princess-themed coloring book I was told is much bigger than any her parents have ever been able to find. We knew the stickers at the back of the book would be as bad for my brother’s ornaments as the rear end of a hobby horse, but I’m only prepared to compromise so far.

My niece was thrilled with part two of her gift and galloped round the house in search of crayons, yelling at the top of her lungs how excited she was. A few minutes later, having attached stickers to every member of the family and several antique pieces of furniture, she came back to my seat with her blue eyes as wide and innocent as could be.

“Do you have any more presents for me?” she wondered, posing a question I think most of us have wanted to ask a time or two.

I promised to look for more gifts while on vacation with my parents, which mollified her, and scored another point when I brought back a miniature suitcase stuffed with candy. Many happy minutes were spent counting all the items and laying them out in neat categories as she waited patiently to have eaten her dinner first.

And then, on the last day, the pièce de résistance. We headed to a local pub to enjoy a roast dinner and aimed our vehicles at a nearby superstore on the journey home.

We wanted to browse the baby clothes because I will be an aunt once again in a few months. A nephew will shortly be added to my collection of two beloved nieces, one on each side of the ocean.

As we cooed over the tiny clothing, my niece spotted an orange hoodie with a lion on it and instantly fell in love. Unfortunately, it was designed to fit a baby aged zero to four months so, even when she put the hood on first, no amount of tugging and squirming was going to get her arms inside the sleeves.

Misery ensued. Thinking quickly, Best Aunt sprinted to the selection more suited for her age group and picked out a floaty peach dress with tiny insects embroidered on it.

It was enough to attract her attention. She strutted in circles with the coat hanger tucked under her chin while we ushered her towards the toy section, far away from baby-sized hoodies.

The plan was successful – there were enough bright colors and glittery shapes to keep her occupied. Within seconds she was pointing at the shelf, declaring her hope that all of this would one day be hers.

“And that one is going on my birthday list, and that one is going on my birthday list, and that one is going on my birthday list,” she said, sometimes not stopping long enough to see what the item was.

I swiped one of the chosen from the shelf – a bath bomb with a mermaid inside – and hid it in my basket to give to her back at the house. I almost made it to the car, but those eagle eyes were not to be fooled.

“What’s that behind your back?” she asked, once again ignoring the rules of social convention.

This gift, too, was a hit. In an attempt to explain why my niece couldn’t open it right that minute, her mum told a beautiful story explaining what it was. Inside the yellow shell, she said, a tiny mermaid was hiding, curled up asleep in the warm.

When my niece put her in the bath later that evening, the mermaid would finally awake from her slumber and the shell that had kept her safe for so long would melt away, fizzing the water in her excitement and turning it wonderful colors, slowly disappearing until, eventually, there the mermaid would be, awake and ready to be my niece’s friend forever.

“Oh,” said my niece, thinking over her options. “I’m going to scratch her out.”

This new crisis was averted and Best Aunt feels she has been successful in making an impression. I think we should all hope that picture book does the trick and my niece one day visits northeast Wyoming – I’m certain she’ll do wonders for the local economy.