Learning how to be a Great Aunt Sue

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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.

 

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Don’t let people deny your childless grief

Dear readers,
Of my 406 posts here at Childless by Marriage, the one that has drawn the most attention over the years is the one titled, “Are you grieving over your lack of Children?” It was published in 2007, early in the blog’s life and has drawn 205 comments. Most come from women who are struggling with painful feelings about not having children. Many seek advice on what to do about reluctant husbands and how to cope with their sadness. Some can’t seem to find anything to live for if they don’t have children.

It’s hard for me to know how to respond. I offer sympathy and some advice, but I don’t have all the answers. Each of us has to decide for ourself whether we can live without children and how much we’re willing to sacrifice to have them.

Over the years, I feel that we have built a community, and I hope you readers will read each other’s comments and help each other.

Meanwhile, let’s talk about this grief. It’s real. We have lost the children we would have had. It’s almost like a death. Our whole lives we will see other families with children and grandchildren and remember that we will never have what they have. It hurts bad. But people who are not in our situation don’t always understand.  They may tell us we’re better off without children, that we’re lucky to be free of kids, that all we have to do is adopt, that’s we’re exaggerating our feelings. They will unwittingly say and do things that cause us pain. Some of us choose to avoid people who have children, even staying home from activities with family or friends because we know we’ll be uncomfortable. People not in our shoes will tell us to get over it, to enjoy other people’s kids, enjoy the money we’re saving, and just move on. But it isn’t that easy, is it?

I have written here many times that it gets easier as you get older. It does, but the grief doesn’t go away. The loss is still there. Please support each other as much as you can. And don’t let anybody take away your right to grieve. The feelings are real. Be honest about them. As we work through this holiday season, let’s take care of each other as much as we can. Right now, let me wrap you in a big virtual hug. ((((((((((((( ))))))))))))). Thank you for being here.

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