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Miss Eloise

I stood in a hospital maternity room 14 years ago
-- only half horrified at the entire birth process -- waiting to meet my best friend's daughter, Miss Lauren Eloise. This bundle of blue-eyed joy filled the fortunate or unforunate role -- depending on your point of view -- of First Baby in our small family of friends. I like to think of Lauren as my unofficial third daughter, my almost niece and -- when she's not calling me the "meanest person on the planet" -- my friend. These blessings are mine more than hers. She's put up with a lot from me, though I'm confident she'll eventually pay me back for the teasing and practical jokes. My experience then with little people -- as an only child and having been a terribly irresponsible teenager -- was rather limited.

My name was on nobody's list of approved babysitters. So Lauren was my first stab at being parentish or auntish -- not that her mother needed or even wanted my assistance. I forced myself on them as I've always done with Erika, who's too polite to say, "thanks but no thanks." I pushed her limits once or twice. There was the time she came home from running errands and found me watching Footloose with Lauren at my feet muching on a glass ball from the Christmas tree. Or the time that I shut Lauren in my bedroom and turned out the lights and cackled like a witch, scaring the child so terribly that she's still afraid of the dark. I popped her pink balloon, and I teased her in front of her friends -- all of the time believing my shenanigans would thicken her skin. Poor Lauren.

She was 3 when her mom and I blew up her Happy Meal toys on the 4th of July. But -- in fairness to us meanies -- those toys had been sitting in the free box all day at Erika's garage sale and were bound for the trash anyway. We gave Lauren a squirt gun and sent her in the house with Jerod to fill it and refill it while we jammed firecrackers in Tinky Winky's finger puppet legs and set him on fire. We tried to no avail to incinerate her Barney bath toy. We poked holes in him for the firecrackers. We filled him up with water and dropped in a couple of mini cannons from Boom City -- Barney was indestructible.

And Lauren was too, apparently -- from a little girl to a makeup wearing, trash-talking teenager. She has an opinion on everything from politics to parenting.

She's the absolute best and worst person to have along should you accidentally lock your kid in a movie theater,  like I did with Lily thinking she was right behind me until the back door to the theater -- which doesn't open from the outside -- slammed shut with Lily on the wrong side crying. Without a word from me, Lauren set off like a track star back to the entrance. I stayed behind screaming through the door that I was sorry -- so, so, so, so unbelievably sorry.

Lily pushed the door open just as Lauren arrived at her side. Our hero let me know in no uncertain terms that good moms keep better tabs on their children. She's so grown up now I forget sometimes about the squishy baby who made silly "uh-oh" faces in the bathtub and called me "Lessuss." My friend Erika raised a damned good kid -- if not something of a know-it-all. She's kind and considerate and smart and beautiful, and I feel a little sad that it happened so fast. Fourteen years -- Thank you, Erika for sharing your daughter. We love her dearly.

Happy birthday, Eloise. You made one hell of birth coach!

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