Being the childless aunt is not so bad

Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone. How did you fare?

I went to California to spend time with my dad. For Thanksgiving, I drove him to the mountains near Yosemite where my brother lives. Traveling with a 96-year-old man who can’t stand without a walker, who doesn’t see or hear well, and who tends toward the cranky side, is not easy.

And then there were the babies. But that was the good part for me. I’m well past the age when people ask when I’m going to procreate. In fact, they don’t ask much about me and my life at all. Well, Dad grills me about my finances, but that’s a whole other thing.

It was a small group. We’ve been shrinking in recent years due to death, illness, and certain people not wanting to be with certain other people. My nephew, divorced, delivered his daughter to her mother’s house and spent the afternoon caring for his ailing grandmother. I was sorry to miss the little girl; I keep hoping I can build a relationship with her, but it won’t happen if I only see her once a year.

Meanwhile, my niece’s kids, a 21-month-old former foster son she adopted and a six-month-old foster daughter she hopes to adopt, provided the entertainment.

I was enchanted by the little girl, one of the prettiest babies I have ever seen (no online pictures allowed for foster children). When I held her and she smiled at me with her little toothless mouth, when she gripped my finger with her tiny fingers, and when she sang just for the pleasure of making noise, I fell in love. I know for some of you, just seeing a baby breaks your heart, but I hope you will come to that place I have reached where you treasure the magic of holding a baby, even if it isn’t your own.

And then be glad you don’t have to deal with an almost two-year old running around grabbing at things, throwing turkey, rubbing mashed potatoes in his hair, torturing the dog, screaming, falling, and screaming again. In perpetual motion, he’s like a wild puppy you can’t throw outside when it gets to be too much. Nothing is safe, except when he’s sleeping. He can’t help it. Everything is new and exciting, but I admire my niece for her strength and love, especially as a single mother. I don’t know if I could do that. Certainly not at this age. Could I have done it when I was young? I expected to. It just didn’t happen.

These days, I’m happy being the aunt and great-aunt. I strive to be the aunt they adore and let the parents be the exhausted ones with baby goo on their clothes and in their hair. Really, I’m okay with it now. I don’t want to take a baby home.

What I do want is grown kids and grandkids. You know, what almost everybody else has. That’s what makes me sad. I had it for a while with my late husband’s children and grandchildren. But now that he’s gone, they’re gone.

A couple years ago when I was bemoaning my childless status, a family member told me it was my own damned fault, that I had my chance. No, I didn’t.

So, how did your Thanksgiving go? How do you plan to cope with Christmas? And what do I buy a baby and a toddler for Christmas presents? I don’t suppose I can send them a copy of my latest book. 🙂

Hugs to all of you. I look forward to your comments.

 

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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.