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Sports-free zone

December 1, 2013 - Zach Baker
My niece is about 2 1/2 years old.

And while I can't be sure of this, I'd be confident in saying she's smiled more in that time than I have in my 33 years.

What amazes me the most about my niece is how easy her smile is. Sometimes I think we're a society of forced smiles. Some people are really good at looking happy when they are not. I envy them. When I try to force a smile, it looks creepy (see just about any photo ever taken of me).

But with Annie, it's different. She hasn't learned decorum yet. No one can shame her into smiling. Because of that, her grins not only look genuine, they are genuine.

There was a time when I thought I didn't like kids that much, mainly because I had no idea how to communicate with them.

But when Annie was born, not only did I want to get her to like me, I felt that, deep inside, I needed it.

My brother has told me that having a child causes you to identify parts of your personality you didn't know existed. It's also true as an uncle.

When I'm with my niece, all I have to do is bang by hand on the floor. Annie grins, laughs, then runs away while I chase her on my hands and knees. If she feels like she's about to be captured, she'll run to another adult and implore, in a voice too soft not to love, "Save me!"

There's plenty I want to teach her: Sports, music, history.

I hope there's time for that. Because she's already taught me more than I could ever teach her.

And all she had to do was smile.

Annie's come to a few games with me, but I know she doesn't get it. Maybe she'll like sports, and maybe she won't.

And that's OK.

Two years ago, my Aunt Marilyn, perhaps the smartest person I've ever met, told me there was more to life than sports.

I couldn't resist.

"Like pro wrestling?" I asked.

"No," she answered.

And this week, after my beloved Browns lost to the Steelers, I shook it off and played with my niece. Suddenly, what my aunt said made sense.

Being around Annie has changed me. Now, I have another niece -- three-month old Penny.

I haven't kept track of Penny's smiles. But spending time with my family's next generation allows me to hope --maybe even believe-- that it will be a while before Penny will out-smile me.


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