It’s school holidays and this green-eyed girl has flown into town to stay with nanna and pa and hang out with her southern cousins.

Only her

Gemma is an only child. Her mum, my sister Fiona, conceived her unexpectedly during a short-lived relationship with an older guy who already had three adult sons. Fiona and Gemma’s dad drifted apart but remain devoted to their unexpected gift, sharing parenting from separate homes in Darwin.


My niece has always been an affectionate child, eager for hugs and snuggle time, and full of questions. She would walk into a room with her eyes and arms wide open, throwing herself at me for an immediate cuddle after any long absence, always eager to talk to me and uncle Ben and the big girls in our house.

She’s intuitive and sensitive, sometimes painfully so. From an early age she could read a room, attuned to its energy, and adapt to suit the mood.

The museum

When she was about nine-years-old I took Gemma to our local museum and science centre. She wasn’t much interested in the exhibits and her attention wandered if I started to read their labels and explanatory text. But she was fascinated by the people wandering through. We had lunch at the museum cafeteria. As we sat eating sandwiches and lemonade she grew quiet as she watched a nearby staff member eating alone. “Aunty Ange,” she said finally, “it must be really sad to eat lunch by yourself.”

Teenage days

Gemma turned 13 recently and today when I pulled her in close the hug was a little awkward. She had the same wide eyes and engaging, crooked smile but she was guarded. Little girl Gemma has disappeared and I suspect her throbbing sensitivity will make adolescence a tough road to trudge. Her Instagram bio reads ~Single 4 Life~

High school sucks

High school is “okay” she says. She got an A for an Italian conversation piece “because I did it with the smartest girl in the class.” But she got an E for technology because her lived environment sim didn’t work. (There was more to it, of course, but I couldn’t follow the story.) When I asked Gemma if, despite the E grade, she learned anything from doing the assignment, she said “I learned the teacher hates me”.

Makeup helps

As Gemma recounted these stories, Chelsea slipped away. She’d planned on giving her younger cousin some makeup pallets she rarely used, shiny tins filled with shimmering eye shadows and blush. But when she returned to the conversation, rather than simply handing over her hand-me-downs, Chelsea invited Gemma to her bedroom for a makeover and instruction.

Big cousins are even better

Makeup is a tool of the trade for dancers, and Chelsea has spent many hours over the years watching her sisters and You-tubers to learn the art of its application. At 18 she’s an expert with a makeup collection many middle-aged women would envy. Today my ex-ballerina showed she too can read the room, as she took her cousin under her wing and gave her the gift of time. She taught her the language of blending and highlighting, which is much more useful to a 13-year-old than Italian.

After 45 minutes Gemma emerged with pink lips and peach eyelids and a smile almost as big as her oversized heart. I took photos to celebrate her new teenage look and she immediately posted them to her Instagram account.

The first comment on the post reads “OMG that looks nothing like you”.

Angela Bensted Bw 1x1
Angela Bensted is a Brisbane-based freelance writer who likes to listen first and struggle with syntax later. She pitches stories to magazines and helps businesses produce compelling copy for print and online.
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