We would see each other frequently at family events. Each time I'd ask her for a hug as we were parting and each time she declined. From time to time she and I would play a game but it seemed the games she enjoyed involved alternately hitting me with something or swinging on a swing and kicking me in the chest. At least we were bonding I would tell myself.
With age she became more articulate.
Me: So Emily, you're 4 years old now. Do you think I can get a hug today?
Emily [frustrated voice]: Uncle Paul. I'm only 3 and 3/4.
And so our relationship persisted. Until last year... Until the Story Land Polar rollar coaster.
Last fall we took Emily with us to StoryLand leaving her parents behind with her brother. I saw this as a chance to finally win her over. When we came across the Polar Coaster Emily lit up with excitement. She was literally vibrating with eagerness to go on this ride.
Now except when kicking me in the chest, Emily is not the most agressive kid. She doesn't like cats though she had 4 of them, and movement and sound are not her favorite things. As such I was skeptical, so I repeatedly checked with her.
Me: Emily, are you sure you want to go on this ride?
Emily: Yes! I want to go on now!
Me: You know this is a rollar coaster right?
Emily: I want to go on the roller coaster!!!
Me: You know this goes really fast right?
Emily: Lets go on the rollar coater right now Uncle Paul!
So we got in line and within minutes we were sitting in the rollar coaster seat. She seemed happy, and still I couldn't believe it. Just as the bar came down on our laps I checked one more time.
Me: Are you sure you want to go on this rollar coaster Emily?
Emily [frustrated voice]: Uncle Paul. I've been on a rollar coaster before!
Me [surprised]: You have?!? Where?
Emily: At Chuck-E-Cheese Silly!
Simultaneously the rollar coaster began to move forward and the words "Oh Shit!" poped into my head.
For those of you that have avoided Chuck-E-Cheese I congratulate you. Keep it up. But let me explain what the rollar coaster at Chuck-E-Cheese looks like. It is a box that is bolted to the ground with a TV in front of it that plays a blurry black and white video of an actually roller coaster ride. Emily loves that rollar coaster. The one that doesn't actually move.
As the Polar Coaster ascended making that typical click-clink-clink sound I tried to understand how I could have been so stupid as to take Emily, my niece that doesn't like to swing too high on a 6 foot swing, on an actual rollar coaster.
Me: Chucky-E- WHAT?!?
Emily: Chuck-E-CHEESE SILLY!! [happily oblivious to the meaning of the click-clink-clink sound]
Me: You mean the thing with the TV screen!?!?!?
The rollar coaster crested the hill.
Emily [frustrated voice again]: Uncle Paul. Don't you know what a rollar coaster is?
And that's when the screaming started...
The coaster smoothly descended as I held my apoplectic niece and tried to calculate how many decades this event was going to push back getting a hug out of her. In the 30 or so seconds it took to complete the ride I came to the conclusion that I was going to have to start investing in cryogenics as I was likely to die of old age before she forgave me for this event.
And then we got off the ride and this happened!
And then this!
Now to an outside observer it may seem as if I'm delighting in the terror of a little girl, but I don't see it that way. When she got off that ride she grabbed on to me and wouldn't let go. It wasn't exactly the hug I'd been looking for, but after 4 years you take what you can get.
The next day the crying had subsided, and in it's place was a new attitude from Emily. I wouldn't call it love, but let's call it tolerance.
Ever since then Emily has had a hug for me whenever we see each other. She even came over a week ago and offered to help me with a house project!
So that's the story of how it took me 4 years to get a hug form my niece Emily. She's a cute kid. Not much for the rollar coasters, but very skilled at bathroom molding installation.