toddler wearing yellow ribbon close-up photography

What I Want To Teach My Baby Niece About Heartbreak

She wriggled in my arms, the newest, pinkest member of our family. Just over 30 days old.

Her face scrunched as she felt something unpleasant pass through her body—a pang of hunger or maybe gas. She held her face wrinkled and red for a few seconds, mouth open, deciding whether or not she would cry.

Then, the red slowly drained away. Her brow unfurrowed. Wrinkles smoothed and mouth gently closed. And just like that, she was at peace again. No tears or wails. A storm had passed across her tiny face, and she made it through all on her own.

I realized then how strong she was, and it made me think of all the ways she would need to be strong in the future. When life got bigger and messier. When there still might be pangs of hunger and gas but also stomach-dropping disappointment. Existential loneliness. Heartbreak.

All of a sudden, I wanted to tell her everything, anything that might make the journey just a bit easier. I wanted to tell her about the fears I have conquered and the community that helps me through the ones that I haven’t. I wanted to tell her that even though I remember my accomplishments, I remember my mistakes more. That mistakes make for the closest of friends later down the line, like guiding lights or guardian angels.

Most of all, I wanted to speak to the state of her heart.

Baby girl.

You’re going to have your heart broken one day. But don’t worry, it will heal. Like kintsugi, it will heal even more beautifully than it was before. Like a bone, it will heal even stronger than it was before.

Don’t let the heartbreak break you. There’s no light without dark, no pleasure without pain.

Love fully each time, even when it’s scary. Especially when it’s scary. Even when your protectors emerge from the irrational pockets of your brain to stop you. Be brave.

Break up with someone. Do it with kindness and respect. Get broken up with. Do it with grace and self-respect.

These things will make you who you are, building blocks to who you’ll become. Through them, you’ll know what it’s like to love and be loved. You’ll learn what it’s like to love and have lost.

If you meet a boy with sad eyes and a big laugh, you might fall in love. You might discover that his eyes hold more truth than his laugh. You might be destroyed by the realization that you can’t fix it, that he’s meant to wade through the sadness without you.

If you meet a boy with deep eyes and fire in his soul, you might fall in love. You might discover that his fire sets you on fire too, billowing high with a mystical, smokey thing called passion. You might realize that you can’t live in debt from someone else’s embers. You might be grief-stricken when you learn that the spark you seek must originate from your own soul and not his.

If you meet a boy with bright eyes and a big heart, you might fall in love. You might find that there’s so much room in his big heart that you can build a home inside. You might get comfortable. You might spend so much time there that you forget what it’s like to live in your own heart. You might wake up one day feeling confused, restless, and lost.

I hope you’ll come to me then. I will hold you like I’m holding you now, rock you like I’m rocking you now. I will tell you you’re exactly where you’re meant to be, and the stretch of life waiting for you on the other side of this storm will be brighter and more peaceful. I will tell you that you’re strong enough to get through it, that you always have been.

I looked down at her teeny fingers and thought of the hands they would hold. The doors they would slam. The tears they would wipe from her face. I wondered what they would create in the future, what they might be destined to wield—a paintbrush and canvas, a whisk and bowl, a scalpel and scrubs. Or maybe, just maybe, a pen and paper like her favorite aunt.

My greatest fear in life is to be naive.

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