Learning how to be a Great Aunt Sue

Riley’s parents prefer that she not be shown on the Internet, so this is her “cousin” Hazel

Riley was the star as soon as she arrived at my brother’s house on Thanksgiving. Mike grabbed her right away. He is the sweetest grandpa, holding her while he sits in his big recliner, feeding her and talking to her.

At five months, she’s just beginning to tune in to her surroundings. She can sit up. She watches everything and responds with squeaks, laughs and cries. She’s definitely more interesting than she was when I first met her in September.

Before Mike’s kids arrived with the baby, I had spent considerable quality time with Hazel, my niece’s dachshund, hugging her up against me, petting her, and talking to her, much like a baby. Hazel was jealous of Riley on Mike’s left knee. She jumped up and claimed his right knee.

Mike passed Riley to Susan, Sharon’s sister. Mother of four, also a grandmother and aunt, she seemed blissful holding the baby, watching her suck on her bottle. If Susan didn’t have to go to work, she probably would not have let her go.

After burping the baby, Mike brought her to me next. “Go see your Great Aunt Sue.” I mumbled about not necessarily being “great” just mediocre as I struggled to get her into a comfortable position, aware that everyone was watching me and I was the only one who didn’t know how to hold a baby properly. Riley whined and stiffened up in my arms until I finally got her into a sitting-up position facing away from me. I kept rubbing her fat, full belly. Only later did I realize that’s what I do with Annie, my dog. Anyway, we got comfortable. She gripped my big wrinkled fingers with her tiny smooth ones. So smooth, not a dimple or mark on the white, white skin. I replaced a sock that had fallen off her little foot. I kissed her downy head. So hot, I said. Normal, Riley’s mom, Courtney, said. Like all the grownups, I talked to the baby. Quietly, like sharing secrets between us.

While I was holding Riley, she made some grunting sounds and Courtney asked, “Are you having a bowel movement?” She instructed me to smell her. I leaned down and sniffed. Nothing. But my sister-in-law picked her up, smelled her butt, and nodded. I felt a rush of panic. Who was going to change her? I had no idea how to do it. To be this old and still not know how to change a diaper . . . Courtney did it. Soon we heard shrieks of baby laughter from the bedroom.

Courtney brought her back out and changed her into soft flannel pajamas. It was like dressing a doll, a warm, soft, pudgy-bellied doll.

Everyone wanted to hold the baby. With Riley in their arms, each person turned soft, kind and playful.

I wanted that, too. I want to watch Riley grow and know me and smile when she sees me, but I live so far away. It will probably be many months before we meet again. She won’t remember me. Do I wish she was mine? I don’t think so. I want to be one of the older people with grandchildren and great-grandchildren to enjoy and hand back to their parents. I want that big wonderful family to celebrate holidays and birthdays with, to help when things fall apart.

It’s like some people say they hate writing but love having written a book. I don’t want to be raising a baby or small children now, but I wish I had done it when I was young, so I could be holding my own granddaughter on Thanksgiving, keeping a crib and toys at my house for when she visits, and buying Christmas presents for my granddaughter.

Being my age and no longer having a husband, I didn’t have to deal with anyone asking when I was going to have children. I remember how hard that was, and I know many of you are going through that. Nobody asked how many children I had or why I didn’t have any. A few asked about my stepchildren and were surprised I hadn’t heard from them. I didn’t expect to.

I was just Aunt Sue, who comes all the way from Oregon to hang out with her elderly father. Nobody understands that I’m still figuring out how to interact with live babies instead of with my Chatty Cathy doll. There’s a magic in those tiny people. I want a share of it, but it has only been a few years that I could be around other people’s babies without crying. Know what I mean?

Riley has two older half-sisters who were with their dad on Thanksgiving. Will I ever be anything to them but a stranger? We’ll see.

I’m never going to be “Mom,” and that hurts. I’m still figuring out how to be Aunt Sue.

So, how did your Thanksgiving go? Feel free to share in the comments.


One thought on “Learning how to be a Great Aunt Sue

  1. I looked towards Thanksgiving with a little sense of dread. My awful family member would be in attendance and I still have no intention to speak to her. I’m still mourning the loss of that relationship, and it’s been awhile. I need to move on. She stuck to her one seat in the house and as long as I didn’t go near her, I didn’t feel awkward.

    Her husband, however (I also have bad feelings toward him but I will speak to him), was grating my nerves. When I sampled both flavors of pudding with alcohol he made a comment. “BOTH?” When my husband couldn’t decide if he was going on an outing with the rest of the guys, this same person said, “You might as well go, Anon S will be working anyway.” Again, only a comment that would irk me because of the person who said it. I let both comments slide as I knew getting defensive about it would only make me look petty. But still.

    Overall, it was a lovely day. However, today is not so great. The awful family member had her beautiful baby today. Before, when this relative wasn’t awful, DH and I would have made the trip to the hospital to properly welcome the new family member. We would have brought a gift, kissed the mother, and taken the other children to the hospital cafeteria to get ice cream or something. We would have driven home happy to have shared in their joy. Maybe a little sad but still happy and trading stories of the cute things the kids talked about.

    This time it’s different. We forced ourselves to be nice and expressed our congrats appropriately on the family text. But that is all we will do. We don’t feel a visit from us will be welcomed, so it’s not even an option to go. For various reasons, these family members are not popular in our large family but since they have only been truly awful to DH and I, they are still treated nicely. And when they have welcomed a new baby it’s to be expected that there will be considerable fuss and love exchanged between the rest of the family and them. But we’re not in that warm bubble and it hurts.

    I know this attention is temporary. I know that other people in the family feel for us and this situation with “The Awfuls”. But what can they do? Family harmony must be kept. I respect that but it stinks to have been treated badly but still expected to “get along”. It stinks to have to share holidays with these people. It stinks that I’m excluded from a special family time.

    I know that I can still ohh and ahh over the baby when other family members are holding the bundle at the Christmas party. I know that the newness of the baby will wear off and “The Awfuls” will slowly lose their esteemed rank and soon there will be another special event that I WILL be able to participate in. But that’s not the case today. A bit of a pity party for myself today, but tomorrow (and maybe even this afternoon) is a new opportunity! I’m thankful to have this place to unload a little.


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