My sister-in-law peyton is 12 years younger than me. I met her when I was 17, she was just 5. I had just started dating ryan and I went over to his house after school one day to hang out. She came running into ryan's room with this huge smile on her face and gave me the most genuine hug, especially for a little kid just meeting someone for the first time. For the next couple of hours she would not leave my side. We played a game of apples to apples and when it was time for me to head home, she started crying. From that moment, I was smitten with that girl.
Peyton is now 17 and is starting her senior year of high school. Holy cow... time flies! In the 12 years of ryan and I's relationship, I have cheered her on at endless soccer and basketball games, gotten her ready for every school dance, watched her learn to drive, played a million games of monopoly, saw her fall in love, had her stand by my side as a bridesmaid in my wedding, took her trick-or-treating nearly every year until she was to old and watched her grow up right before my eyes. Just a couple weeks ago I was helping her get ready for her senior pictures and I felt this parental pull over me as I watched her smile for the camera. I know she is not my child by any means and I truly see her as my sister through and through but I had this moment where I just looked at her smiling (like I can imagine a parent would) and was overcome with incredible pride. Pride from seeing who she has become, where her choices have taken her and pride that I was able to experience it by her side.
I hope her senior year is amazing, full of memories that she can carry with her for years to come and that I will continue to be the 'cool aunt' that she will let tag along in some of her fun.