When I was young, I hated all of those old people always commenting, "You grow like a weed" (To Sister Jen who also grew like a weed and was olive-skinned and tan, Grandmother Edwards would say, "You're as brown as a nut!" and Granddaddy Matthews would say, "She's got big feet.")
Because I tired of those comments, I've always tried not to comment on how fast my nieces and nephews are growing up, but I hope Isabella will forgive me this time. She's grown up so fast!
When Isabella was maybe two years old (Do kids talk then?), she saw a photo of a baby and pronounced, "That's Jack." (Jack's Isabella's first brother, 14 months younger than she is.) Sister Jen said, "No, that's you. You were a baby once, too."Little Isabella thought about that for a long, quiet moment and then whispered, "That's amazing." She's right. It is amazing, this move from baby to person. She's always been amazing, always in my heart.
Not long after, Isabella came to Grandmother Matthews' 80th birthday party. I spent a lot of time in a cute town picking out the perfect, expensive teddy bear. Isabella played with a hanger the whole weekend, and I haven't been much of a shopper for any of my nieces and nephews ever since.
When Isabella was maybe five years old, and her three younger brothers had all been born, she'd corner me or Ann at every family gathering and drill us with questions until somebody noticed and stopped the interrogation: "Why aren't there any boys in your house?"…"Why don't you wear rings?"…She was trying to understand a lesbian relationship before being gay hit pop culture. When Ann and I would see Isabella again, maybe six months later, she would pick up right where she left off with the questions. (We always answered them until she asked me, "Where do babies come from?" I told her, "That's a question for your mother.)
Last summer and fall, Isabella let me help her with her college essays, and I got to know her better through the explorations of what is important to her. One interesting conversation was about her involvement with debate, which she loves (in this way, you know that she's related to my father). She said that she loves to take the opposite side of any argument and win it. There are only two topics, she said, that she won't argue against: immigration and gay rights (in these ways, you know that she's related to me.)
The kids' nanny growing up was a young woman from Ecuador, and from her nanny (her "second mom"), Isabella learned to love someone from another culture and to respect the struggle of people who don't speak English and come to this country. Isabella says she learned this respect from her mom, who treated people who had immigrated from south of the US border respectfully: in fact, Isabella thought her nanny was just a friend of her moms who came over and helped out a lot. (Really, she was and is.) Because of Isabella's relationship, she is fluent in Spanish, believes passionately in compassion for people from different countries, and plans to major in something about international work.
One of the things I love about Isabella is that she's tough. She's no wilting violet. I always think of Isabella when I hear Natalie Merchant's song, "The Adventures of Isabel." (I call it "The Adventures of Isabella" because I think the song captures Isabella's spirit):
Isabel met an enormous bear
Isabel, Isabel, she didn't care
bear was hungry,bear was ravenous
bear's big mouth was cruel and cavernous
bear said, Isabel, glad to meet you
How do, Isabel, now I'll eat you
Isabel, Isabel, she didn't worry
Isabel didn't scream or scurry
Washed her hands straightened her hair up
Then Isabel ate the bear up
Like her mother and her grandmother, Isabella is smart and beautiful and takes no guff. I know that she will do well, which means that the people that she meets and the world she lives in will be better because she is here.