Little-girl hug makes childless auntie happy

Sue & Riley 62318Being an aunt is the best. You don’t have to earn it, justify it or explain it. Yes, there are honorary aunts, and I’ve got a relative who insists on dubbing all adult cousins “aunt” and “uncle,” so the kids grow up thoroughly confused, but I’m talking about real aunts (and uncles).

I just came back from my dad’s house in California. No Wi-Fi, hence no post last week. It was a challenging trip. I was originally going to attend my niece’s party to celebrate her birthday and the adoption of her little boy. But she got sick and had to cancel. I should have canceled, too, but I had already gotten the time off, and I had told my 96-year-old father I was coming. I put Annie in doggie jail and drove almost 700 miles to San Jose. The drive felt extra long. I was sleepy and tired as I dodged trucks, RVs, and cars on I-5. When I arrived, my father was in a terrible mood, but I did my best to help him, despite temperatures nearing 100 and no air conditioning. I was alarmed at how his health had declined in the two months since I saw him last. I cooked, cleaned, gardened, and assured him I would do whatever needed doing.

Early on the second morning, I woke up sick. Stomach flu. The sites online describe it as a sudden explosion, followed by a strong desire to die. Yes. Total output, fever, chills, aches, the works—on the hottest day of the year in San Jose. I lost six pounds in two days and wasn’t much help to my dad (who wasn’t much help to me). As soon as I could drag myself out of bed, I continued trying to help him. We fixed the bathroom sink, I pulled weeds, I cleaned the refrigerator (pleasantly cold), cooked, and washed dishes. I went to Jack in the Box and bought him a milkshake.  I listened to hours of stories about the old days on the ranch, in the Pacific during World War II, and on the job as an electrician. Eventually my stomach stopped threatening to erupt, and I could stand for more than a minute.

My brother came to visit with his son William and his two-year-old granddaughter Riley. My nephew explained to his little girl that I was “Papa’s big sister.” Riley has lots of aunts, including four with names that are variations of “Susan,” but I’m Papa’s only big sister.

Any doubts about whether I should have gone to California were erased when Riley came running to me with a big smile, arms open wide for a hug. Yes, aunthood is good. She’s at the age where she’s discovering the world and is rarely still or quiet. I’m glad I’m not responsible for her 24/7. I don’t understand half of what she says. But I loved interacting with her and watching her as she explored my dad’s backyard and got soaked playing with the sprinkler on that hot afternoon. And I loved spending time with her daddy, a giant of a man I remember as a funny little boy with glasses who didn’t mind hanging out with Aunt Sue.

Aside from our Saturday with the kiddos, it was just Dad and I, two people who usually live alone. I’m alone because of the whole widow-without-kids thing, but my father has two children, two grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. He rarely sees any of them, doesn’t know when their birthdays are or what they care about. He expects nothing from them and offers nothing in return. Part of that is being a guy. Mom was the one who kept the family connections going. Part of that is the sharp-edged side of his personality that I have known all my life. Big sigh.

Dad is uncle to nine wonderful adults, along with their children and grandchildren. Again, not much connection. He talks a lot about his family history. He loved his Uncle Louie and his Uncle Walter. I don’t know what happened. I guess you make what you will of the opportunity.  I think you have to start when the nieces and nephews are young, offering your love, your time, and your interest in what interests them. The rewards can be great. And it’s way easier than being a step-parent.

I know sometimes it feels too painful to be around other people’s children. Perhaps seeing your siblings become parents just reminds you of what you’re missing. But if you’re lucky enough to be an aunt or uncle, don’t miss this chance to love and be loved by a little one.

For more about being a childless aunt or uncle, read Melanie Notkin’s book Savvy Auntie and check out her blog at the Savvy Auntie website. Ten years ago, Notkin established July 22 as Auntie’s Day, so if you can claim aunthood in any form, go celebrate.

Also visit my previous posts about being an aunt. “Free to Be Aunt Sue” is about my relationship with Riley’s daddy, William. “Learning How to Be a Great Aunt Sue” talks about my first time meeting Riley.

I welcome your comments on being an aunt or uncle. Also, do you say “ant” or “awnt?”




People Assume Crazy Things About Childlessness

Is your home perfectly clean because you don’t have children? Do you dare to buy white sofas? Is your schedule wide open? Do you have lots of money to spend?

Somehow parent-type people seem to think those of us without children luxuriate in quiet, neatness, freedom and money. Ha. Not me. How about you?

I just spent a few minutes standing in front of the pellet stove looking around my living room. What a mess. Dog blankets. Laundry waiting to be carried to the laundry room. Grocery bags I didn’t put away last week. Books and sheet music everywhere. The carpet is stained, the old green furniture is coated with dog fur, and this pellet stove I depend on for heat needs cleaning and servicing. Ashes fall out when I open the door.

I do display pieces of my antique glass collection where a child might be able to reach it, but there are many things I don’t dare leave lying around because my dog will eat them: Eyeglasses, pencils, paper, food, paper clips, or anything small and plastic.

Lots of spare time? Nope. Why do you think my house is such a mess? Work takes priority over cleaning.

I’m rich, so I can afford a maid, right? Well, way back in San Jose when my husband was alive and working, we paid someone to clean, but we weren’t childless then. His son lived with us full-time. So what am I saying? I’m trying to say that people assume things about childless folks, most of which are not true.

Have you heard that people who decide not to have children are selfish, career driven, strange, or immature? That they’re no good with kids, so you wouldn’t dare let them babysit? That they don’t want to be around children? Otherwise they’d have them or they’d adopt some kids.

That if there’s a fertility problem, it’s always the woman whose parts don’t work.

Here’s a good one: If you really wanted children, you would have tried harder and made it happen, so you must not have wanted them that bad.

For more ideas about the annoying things people assume, check out these articles. You might find a few things you identify with.

Melanie Notkin: 4 Unfair Assumptions About Childless Women

Ruth Sunderland: Childless is Not a Synonym for Weird

What about you? What do people assume about you that makes you nuts? Please share in the comments.