One of the greatest parts about being back in the United States of God Bless America (the full legal name) is that I have been able to see all of my four nieces and two nephews with some regularity. I LOVE these kids. They're like cuter versions of my siblings.

One of the cutest of them all is my tiny niece Emrie. NOT THAT I'M RANKING THEM.

Unfortunately Emrie and I have had a VERY rocky relationship since the beginning of her life about four years ago. For reasons that nobody could really explain, this kid absolutely screamed every time I walked into the room from the moment she was born.

I used to think that this was because she could sense a dark connection to me since her mother--my younger sister Micalyne--received the wrath of my bullying in our very youngest years. This wrath included multiple haircuts, effective manipulation that got baby sister to clean my room somewhere around 4,000 times, and one instance where I tried to sell her to the creepy man who lived down the street.

It was going to be a pretty good deal, too.

I thought that perhaps Emrie's spirit knew that something wasn't right between us and that my soul was not to be trusted.

Micalyne and I repaired our initially struggling relationship over the years until we finally became best friends in our later teenage years. And she and I have stayed close ever since. This is despite the fact that every other member of my family views her with terror and admiration since she inherited the "wash your mouth out with soap and drag you out of church by your ear" gene from Cathie without also inheriting the "bake coconut bread and speak in a sweet voice to make you feel better about your problems" gene, which creates a balance in our mother that keeps her from becoming the modern day Joseph Stalin.

*Note: Micalyne is actually a very nice person. But she's the no nonsense productive type of nice person. I'm pretty sure she was every school teacher from films about the olden days in a former life.

When I left for Palau, Emrie still wanted nothing to do with me. The kid was growing into a terrifically funny little person with a vibrant sense of humor and a mischievous intellect, but I was unable to tap into this resource because she wouldn't come within twenty feet of me.

I knew that the problem wasn't that I'm just bad with kids because the rest of my nieces and nephews think I'm a rock star. And I'm not even that nice to them. And I lie to them A LOT.

Over the course of the year I spent in Palau, Micalyne and I made it a point to Skype now and then so Emrie could possibly learn to get used to me electronically before I made the physical transition back into her life. This seemed to be working, and each time we Skyped, she was willing to come right up to the computer and tell me all about her day.

The moment of truth came when I finally arrived in Salt Lake City last week. And I thought that one full year of hard work had paid off when Emrie was willing to give me a hug in person.

The next day I was with her at a park. I asked her if she wanted me to push her on a swing. She politely asked for me to get someone else. As she went through a list of acceptable swing-pushers, I responded repeatedly that each person was unavailable, curious about how many people she would have to go through before she finally settled with me.

Ultimately she told me that if none of those people were available, then she would prefer not to swing at all.

Just then Cathie approached and took this picture:

The next day I pulled this picture up on what the kids are calling my "the smart phone" and showed it to her. I hoped it would reinforce our mending relationship to see a picture of us together.

She looked at it, rolled her eyes, and said bewilderingly, "great. JUST great."

~It Just Gets Stranger