As I straddle middle age, I realize it's unlikely that I'll ever be a mother. Heck, in recent months I haven't found a guy I want to share a dinner with, let alone my DNA.

But that's okay.

Because throughout adulthood, while attending dozens of baby showers, I've been happy for my friends but have never felt that pang of envy, wishing it were I. Not once have I ever turned the same shade of green that washes over me when, for example, someone gets a puppy or vacations in London.

Do I like kids? Absolutely. Will I regret not having any of my own? I doubt it. I recognize that not every person is meant to be a parent simply because they're capable of reproducing. But occasionally I need a kid fix. I need to forget about cheating politicians, reality TV, road rage, ringing cell phones, and looming deadlines. That's when I seek out a little person. An innocent who really thinks that true happiness lies in a triple scoop Baskin Robbins bubblegum ice-cream cone.

Enter my seven-year old niece, Meggie.

She reminds me of a time when my biggest concern in life was what to be for Halloween. Like when I witnessed her agonizing dilemma over which costume to choose. Should she be the silly SpongeBob SquarePants or the pretty pre-transformation Princess Fiona from Shrek? Sigh… to face such a big decision at such a tender age isn't easy.

Meggie is the only person I buy gifts for when I travel. As an infant she drooled over the exquisite lace frock I purchased in Florence. When she was four she insisted on wearing her hula outfit from Maui. To church, on Christmas Eve. As a five-year-old she strutted to kindergarten, proudly showing off her straw purse from Jamaica. After each trip we sit on her bed and spin the Rand McNally globe, identifying the origin of each gift.

"This is Ireland," I point to the tiny green spot in the Atlantic. "where your flute is from. And here," I slide my finger down to Martinique, " is where I bought your doll." Intrigued, she asks questions about the different countries. Do the kids eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, too? What do they look like? Are they nice?

That's why I've told Meggie if she gets good grades and doesn't give her parents any grief, I'll take her on vacation with me when she graduates from high school. "Anywhere?" she asks incredulously. As she's spinning the globe, I see brown-bag lunches and coupon clipping in my future for the next decade, but I don't care. "Anywhere." I promise.

Meggie and I talk about music. TV. School. Once a month we go to our favorite bookstore and after carefully perusing the aisles, we take our newly acquired purchases to the adjacent café and read, my Patricia Cornwell to her Harry Potter. We sit in silence as I sip my soy latte and she, her hot cocoa.

One night we made chocolate covered breadsticks. Carefully she dipped each thick breadstick in the bowl of melted milk chocolate, and then rolled it in a plate of red and green sprinkles before setting it down to dry on aluminum foil. Patiently she repeated the process with each breadstick, mindful not to drip any chocolate or spill any sprinkles on my beige carpet.

Maybe this kid was too clean.

I dipped my fingers in the melted chocolate, smeared the sweet brown goop across my mouth, and then planted a big brown smackaroo on her cheek. There!

"And don't you even THINK of doing that to me," I challenged.

Stunned, she looked at me for a second. Was her aunt crazy? Then cautiously, she mimicked my actions.

"Oh, you're in trouble now," I warned, dipping both hands in the chocolate and reaching for her as, shocked and delighted, she happily followed suit.

The chocolate breadsticks never did get made, but that's okay. Because something far more important was created instead. It was all too apparent by the glow on Meggie's face.

Motherhood, by its purest definition, may not be my goal, but I'm content with the knowledge that it doesn't have to be. And when Meggie asks, "Can we pretend you're my mommy tonight?" I stroke her earnest chocolate-covered face and inform my "daughter" that she has chocolate in her ears.
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