Transitions 1 - I Saw Her First

18 years ago today, at about 1.15pm in a delivery room at Kings, heart pounding and fingers aching (you know what I mean Funke) I met, for the first time, someone who was to become one of the great loves of my life; my niece, Reni. She’s my cousin’s daughter and I call her my niece because it’s easier.  We are very close and part of our connection is that I was the first person to see her.  As a toddler, I would frequently tell her that I saw her first. I would say it so she knew I loved her not only when she was being sweet but also and usually when she’d been a bit naughty, she would refuse to apologise for the duration of my visit and then come running to the door just as I was leaving to say

‘I’m sorry Auntie Taiwo.’ Then I would hug her and say

‘You can’t lose me that easily. Because you see,  I saw you first.

Aside from the fact she’s turning 18 today (Oh my), next month she’s off to university so one of my goals this year has been to try and spend as much time with her as is realistic and for the most part I’ve achieved that, and I’m glad because come September she’s gone.

I started to write this piece several months ago after we’d spent an afternoon together but I didn’t want to post it. Aside from it feeling very personal I didn’t want to post it without asking her permission first; permission to use photos of her and permission to write about her.

It was in March and I hadn’t seen her for at least 6 months. I think the last evening we spent together was at the theatre watching Wicked, and because of my travels and her school work we exchanged sporadic messages on WhatsApp.

Budding dress sense

Budding dress sense

She was off for the afternoon and so we went for a walk and then a late lunch. And as I sat opposite her and listened to her talking about her recent trip to Israel and what she had learned and how her views changed as a result of her encounters with people out there, it struck me that this is no longer my little niece, the one I saw first and who has always had a piece of my heart. This is no longer the little girl who believed me when I told her I knew everything, who asked me what colour God was. Then proceeded to list every colour she could think of.

Reni: Auntie Taiwo what colour is God?

Me: He is any colour you want him to be

Reni: Can he be red?

Me: Yes

Reni: Can he be gold?

Me: Yes Reni.

Reni: Can he be orange...

You get my drift.

No she isn’t that girl anymore. She isn’t the girl who would be so good at school that she had no choice but to be naughty at home. She isn’t the little girl that I had to yell at to put on her seat belt at the back of the car. She isn’t a little girl anymore, rather she’s a young woman who is eloquent, who can give reasoned and well thought out arguments and who is compassionate, and maturing beautifully and, as I was surprised to see yesterday, good with children.

We spent yesterday, the eve of her 18th birthday together. We took my great niece and nephew out for the afternoon. And it reminded me of the many outings we went on, first with her brother and when he got too old, just her and me. And it was strange to watch the young woman who was the little girl I watched over, watching over the little ones today. As we travelled home together having dropped the young ones with their mother, I still instinctively looked over my shoulder to make sure she was close by.

And while I’m so thankful that she has grown up to be all I’ve described and more, I feel a little sadness because it’s like I’m losing her. She no longer needs me for the same things. She has a choice whether or not she wants to spend time with me.

I have no children of my own so I wasn’t expecting to feel this sense of loss at the thought of her going away, but I saw her first.

If watching your child leave home or go to college/university is anything like this then

I’m sorry for your loss.

As I walked home from the train station and reflected on the day I thought again how sad it was that she no longer needs me for the same things, and she now has a choice whether or not she wants to spend time with me. And it suddenly hit me and the sadness turned to something else -  joy.

Wow, she no longer needs me for the same things – she’ll need me for different things and she now has a choice whether or not she wants to spend time with me and, it seems she does.

I write this for all the parents out there who feel they are losing their young adults to university or work or other things and again I say

Aged 17 years 11 months and 30 days

Aged 17 years 11 months and 30 days

I’m sorry for your loss. And at the same time

Congratulations on your amazing achievement.



Happy birthday Baby Girl!



Taiwo Dayo-PayneComment