On this day, thirty years ago, a baby girl named Rachel Rothenberg was born in Racine, Wisconsin. At the time, her parents (one of which happens to be my sister) were residing in the balmy, tropical and sunny city of Madison, Wisconsin. I remember getting the call advising me that I had become an uncle for the first time. I was overwhelmed, confused about my role in this deal, but thrilled at the prospect of having a child in the family. At the time, I was serving in a position that required shift-work and frequent travel. Lucky for me, I was scheduled for a trip to Chicago and was able to sneak up to Madison to see my niece for the first time.

When I arrived at their townhome, it was clear that the family dynamics had changed from the last time I had seen them. My sister was still getting her feet under her as a new mom, my mother was trying to assert her dominance of the kitchen and my brother in law was complaining that the onions in the meatloaf were not chopped to the proper size. Holy crap! What happened here? But the main event was getting to hold baby Rachel for the first time. I felt like an uncle and it was amazing. That is, until Rachel decided that her Uncle Bobby would be the recipient of her first “gift” to the world. You know what I’m talking about. So as any uncle would do, I immediately handed my dear niece back to her rightful owner. After all, they needed to learn how to execute a proper diaper change, not me!

At this point, the meatloaf discussion had subsided, diapers had been changed, my sister wanted to sleep and it was time for a drink. My brother in law happily offered to take me to a local Madison watering hole to toast the arrival of Rachel. Through all the fluster, I remember how proud he was and how happy my sister was. It was a big change for everyone, but I mostly remember the excitement and how much love there was. Once my mother got over the onion debate, I remember seeing her smile while holding Rachel. She was made to be a Grandma and I don’t think she ever really let go of her. She loved her so much.

Rachel – Christmas 1994

That baby has grown to be a brilliant, funny and caring young woman who has accomplished many things that others haven’t. Not only will she receive her Phd from the Univ. of Washington in a few months, but she will forever hail as the 2009 Teen Jeopardy Champion with an official day named after her in the City of Pittsburgh. As her uncle, those accomplishments are meaningless when compared to what makes her uniquely different from other people her age. She has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know and is always able to see the good in everyone she meets (minus an unnamed former president). She is quick to support those less fortunate and fiercely defends those who are marginalized. She cares deeply about all of her family, even when they are struggling and scared. She is an amazing role model for my daughters and frequently forces me to think critically and defend my views. I have seen her push through anxiety and uncertainty with poise, confidence and strength.

The Patient Older Cousin – 2005

Most of all, Rachel has been an amazing niece who always makes me laugh and tolerates my twisted sense of humor. I hope she has an amazing birthday, stays safe in this Covid world and keeps looking for the truth in an increasingly complicated and dangerous world.

We need more Rachel Rothenbergs in this world. I love you kid!

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