I’m in Santa Barbara, for a little visit with mom. Meeting my sisters and their families for President’s Day, which means spending the weekend as an aunt.
I love aunthood. I anticipate the smooth cheeks of my nieces and nephews with great joy. Their shiny hair. Their chirping voices. Not that I don’t get tired by the multitudes, eventually. 54 is too old to be a mother, so it’s a good thing I’m done. But the children of my sisters delight me.
Aunthood, when your own big kids have grown, is kind of like a pro golfer playing miniature golf. You can putt that ball like nobody’s business. I know how to talk to an infant. Just enough cooing, look away when they’ve had enough. I know how to bounce a big baby to sleep. I can feed a picky 3-year old, play Polly Pockets with a 7-year old, hold sidelong conversations with a 10-year old boy about his latest fixation.
But to moms belong the windmill tricks. They and only they know what to do when the 2-year old breaks into wild howls over the wrong strong wording. Only they know the code that unlocks participation in this certain game. Only they have enough patience to understand that wagon wheel pasta is not as good as cavatelli. I used to know that last bit, but it has faded from my consciousness.
Mothers matter most, of course, but aunts are a good invention.
Sometimes I wish that my sisters and brothers inhabited my cul-de-sac. There are three houses next to mine. Just enough, you see. Number 7 has a swimming pool. We could share. I would bring lemonade, and make it, fresh.
When I heard voices of children calling outside, they’d be my family. If I heard fighting, or the little one start to cry, I could step outside and make auntly noises in their direction, knowing that the job is not to solve but to scaffold. Reiterate general principles,
“In this family we don’t call people names. I know you’re mad. Still no calling names.”
“Give the little guy his own turn, then you can keep playing in a few minutes.”
“Honey, time for big kid bike riding now, come inside and help me make lemonade. You can pick the mint.”
Because what with all that time mothering, we learn more about children than we ever get to use. One of my nieces thinks I’m the funny aunt. I was not a very funny mother. I guess I stored up some tricks.
Have a wonderful weekend.