My sister was babysitting her six-month old grandson for a long weekend recently and invited me to her place for a couple of days to join in the fun. The time spent with my great-nephew made me realize again all the ways in which I enjoy being an aunt.
My nephews and niece and I have our own traditions. Once they were at toddler stage, we began the practice, when I visited, of my taking them out for an excursion, sans parents. One year, we had a sibling vacation in Boston and I took the two older boys (six and four) and my niece (two) to a movie and lunch. We were walking back to my apartment when we passed FAO Schwarz and I took them inside. To quote a co-worker to whom I told this story, ‘what was I thinking?!’ It was a little crazy inside with massive amounts of stimuli but we did okay until it was time to leave. I shepherded them out the revolving door only to find I was short one child. I had the two boys clamp their hands around one of the stanchions outside the door and made them promise not to move until I returned. I raced back inside to find that my niece had been captivated by the wind-up toys in action near the door and stopped to watch them. Sheesh—I was wiped-out from stress for the rest of the day! And as you can tell, scarred because that was over 20 years ago and I still get a clutch in the heart when I think of it!
When my oldest nephew started college, I joined him and his parents at the school to help him move in and get settled. That was a start of another tradition, which is to show up for, and participate in, the college move-in for each one of them. Two of my nephews have attended my alma mater, so I’ve had the added fun of revisiting the campus and seeing it through their eyes. I still have one more college trip to look forward to.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that just as I treat them differently than their parents do, the reverse is true. When my sister several years ago told her boys that she was thinking of getting a tattoo, they were appalled. When I said the same thing some weeks later, the reaction was ‘cool, what would you get?’ (For the record, I didn’t get a tattoo.)
My sisters and I have often talked about how genetic material seems to have jumped sideways. For example, one of my nephews approaches a museum the same way his uncle does—as if he’s studying for the exam. My oldest nephew and I have the same rent-a-fact ‘business’ (being the oldest teaches you to speak authoritatively, even if you don’t know what you are talking about!). Then there are the things that make you wonder if the child is in fact related to you—one of my nephews does not like chocolate and one of my great-nephews wakes up with a smile on his face.
One thing I find a little disconcerting is how well they know some of the stories from my and my siblings’ childhood. Once at my mom’s house, we pulled out the bun warmer to put some rolls in it and the boys knew all about how the dent got there (my brother and I were throwing around pots and pans during an argument). I think the story they know best, though, is the story of how, when I was in high school, I drove an hour out of the way to get to a skating rink ten minutes from our house. Now whenever I’m trying to navigate to a place, I hear ‘life is an adventure, right, Aunt Melissa?’ because that’s what I used to say to my sisters when I was lost. It’s all so embarrassing!
My nephews and niece may not know this even now, but since they were babies, my friends and co-workers have listened to stories about how clever, how charming, how cute they are and looked at innumerable photos.
There are roles we embrace, roles we discard, roles that change over the years. Through it all, my role as aunt has brought me much joy, so here’s looking at you, kids: Andrew, Michael, Paige, Nicholas, and Benjamin.