For a few years, during the hardest part of infertility and after, I couldn't enjoy kids. It was just too painful. Of course I slapped a smile on my face and pretended to enjoy myself, but really it was a lie. But that seems to be changing.
My middle niece, my youngest sister's middle daughter, is special to me. She's nearly four now. I was there when she was born. I held her before either of her parents. She's a really cool kid. She's loud, busy, adventurous, uncoordinated, and sharp as a tack. She's always been drawn to me.
Not surprisingly she was a source of great pain too. An ever present reminder of everything we didn't (and later found out that we couldn't) have. She was conceived right around the time I was starting to worry that having a baby wouldn't be as easy as tossing birth control.
When we did Christmas with my family I got to spend a lot of time with this particular niece. She and I are both early risers. On our last morning there, I was up before anyone else in the house. She must have heard me, so she got up too. We made breakfast together, apple pie and toasted cheese sandwiches, her choice*. After breakfast we cuddled up in the recliner and read a few books together. We spent at least an hour together before anyone else woke up.
I absolutely cherished this experience. It felt so special to me, and I think to her too. But it also left me longing for a little boy or girl of my own to cuddle. Definitely a weird gray space of where I held happiness and longing at the same time.
The takeaway is that I'm having an easier time being around kids and enjoying it, and that makes me happy.
*When you're an aunt, you get the discretion to feed nieces and nephews whatever they want, so naturally apple pie was a perfectly acceptable breakfast choice.