There is one thing I love more than California, and that’s my little niece Mikaela, who happens to be, well, made in California! To say that I’ve adored her since she was born is kind of an understatement—truth is, I’ve been head over heels with her even before she could pop out of her mommy’s belly! My sister and I were taking a stroll down the Venice Beach Boardwalk one excruciatingly hot afternoon in the summer of 2010, and that was when she first announced to me that she was preggo. So there I was soaking up the scenery, thinking of Tom Kapinos’s Californication because this was the very place where many of my favorite scenes from that series had been shot, especially that one scene some 8 minutes into the second episode of the fourth season where Madeleine Martin’s character little Becca Moody plays her electric guitar at the Boardwalk for some cash—and here was my sister telling me she was expecting, and that it was probably going to be a girl! Suddenly my mind was running wild with thoughts of what this baby girl was going to turn out like. Was she going to be the quintessential California girl, à la Lauren Conrad—you know, a sucker for the beach, adored dogs, obsessed with shopping and makeup, and with a megawatt smile that looked like it had a thousand summers written on it? That would be nice, I thought. But then as I walked further down the Boardwalk, past the Schwarzenegger types pumping iron at the Muscle Beach Gym, past the turban-sporting electric guitarist on roller skates, past the ageing hipsters taking a nap under palm trees (or holding up placards that advertised “Shitty Advice for $1!”), I realized that deep inside I didn’t want a California sweetheart for a niece—I wanted one who was hardcore, someone who got mad guitar skills, just like Becca Moody! And so for months that was the stuff my daydreams were made of: my niece playing her electric guitar for passersby at the Boardwalk—and it would be a song with a killer guitar solo, too, like, say, “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, or “Yellow Ledbetter” by Pearl Jam—and me sitting on the bench behind her with a proud, arrogant smile on my face. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
What I failed to consider was that babies don’t just turn into guitar-toting teenagers overnight—they actually have to go through a phase called, well, babyhood, where all they like to do is coo, crawl, and cuddle. (Hey, we’ve all had poor sense of time at one point or another, right? LOL!) Not to say that this disappointed me, of course. When I returned to L.A. this year and saw this little munchkin waiting for me at the airport, my heart melted all the same. I mean, come on, look at those chubby cheeks! And those big, round eyes! And those plump legs! She had just turned one, so her coos were a little loud now, and she was slowly transitioning from crawling to walking now—the cuddling part didn’t come until a little later (she would not come anywhere near me during the first couple of days), but when it did I found it very hard to stop!
I thought it was kind of cute how she didn’t have a lot of hair on her yet. At first I found this a little alarming, but then my mom told us that that had been us, too—”It wasn’t until you turned 2 or so that you began to grow a full head of hair.” It was just amusing and awkward at the same time how people would come up to Mikee (that’s how we call her) and say, “What an adorable little boy!” and so I had to explain, every single time, that “She’s actually a girl!” It didn’t help that, every time we tied a bow around her head or made her wear headbands with girly girl detail (rosettes, lace trimmings, etc.), she’d only put them on for a few minutes before taking them off and tearing them apart! Such a monster when it comes to those head adornments, I kid you not—she thinks of them as the enemy!
She’s also a monster when it comes to French fries, and by that I mean she devours them like there is no tomorrow. Some folks’ brows are going to raise, because you really aren’t supposed to expose babies to that kind of stuff, but can you help it if it’s the only thing that makes their eyes light up and their mouths water? I’m not sure how it started, but we were at the Hollywood In-N-Out one afternoon, and while the rest of us were busy surreptitiously taking photos of Derek Hough (of Dancing with the Stars) and Maria Menounos (of Extra, formerly of Access Hollywood), she remained oblivious to the celluloid-crazy world around her and carried on with her fries, leaving none for us! Yes, she is very, very territorial about them—she will gladly share everything else, like her Apple Jacks or her Pinkberry or her Wetzel’s Pretzels, but she will never share her fries, thank you very much!
But dislike of headbands and French fry hoarding aside, she really was just a sweet little thing. Funny that she turned out to be the California sweetheart that I had initially wanted to take a pass on, yet I was enjoying it immensely. For one, I love that she turned out to be a water baby, squealing with delight every time we brought her to the beach, or some pool, or even if it was just the bathtub—and she could rock the bikini like no other, too! She also had a soft spot for dogs, and this one time she stopped a middle-aged dog walker dead in his tracks on the corner of Hollywood and N Orange so she could make friends with his chichi Chihuahuas. She also loved it whenever we took her shopping—which was 80% of the time—and even if she wasn’t old enough yet to choose her own clothes (of course) she was always willing to try on every single thing we picked for her, and she enjoyed rummaging through our shopping bags, too. Another thing she loved rummaging through was her mom’s makeup kit—my sister would leave the whole thing unattended, and five minutes later there’s lipstick and eyeliner and compact powder all over the place! And then there’s her smile—I don’t really need to describe it because you can see it in these photos, but if I really must then I will need to borrow a line from that one Collective Soul song: it’s got that “sunshine bright-eyed California cotton candy taste!”
So I never got the Becca Moody that I’d hoped for, and instead I got a little Lauren Conrad, but that’s totally fine. The Becca Moody phase will manifest sooner or later. Happy to report that her musical inclination is starting to kick in already! Just a couple of weeks back my brother-in-law (her dad) expressed that he wanted to get her a present, but was torn between a puppy and a guitar—he’d seen how much she adored dogs (the Chihuahua encounter in Hollywood), but could not discount the fact that every time he picked up his guitar she would stare dreamily and even try her hand at strumming. This problem was solved a few days later when he got her a guitar in the shape of a hound dog (by B. Toys) from Target! And speaking of Target, I must not discredit the fact that, during my last few days in L.A. and we would find ourselves in a Target to shop for camera accessories, she would gravitate towards the musical instruments department, pick up some drum sticks, and just start banging away at every surface in sight (we even got into trouble at one of the Culver City Targets when the salesperson approached us and asked us to “please watch your baby because these are very expensive drum sticks”)! And when we took her to Griffith Park so she could play in the grass she was quick to pick up two dead twigs the size and shape of, well, drum sticks, and that was all she played with the whole time! And when we took her for a stroll down the Venice Beach Boardwalk she was first to spot this miniature piano (that belonged to a piano-playing Malti-Poo called Coco), and rushing towards the thing was the first time she’s ever ran so fast in her life!
So now I don’t know: Is she going to grow up to be a guitarist, or a drummer, or a keyboardist? One thing is for sure: She is going to go places. And she is going to rock people’s worlds. I mean, she’s already got a head start—she’s already rocking mine!
Mikaela K. Arradaza | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Los Angeles, CA, on April 2012, and in San Diego, CA, and Van Nuys, CA, on May 2012