“the most undervalued women in America are childless aunts” focused on the countless women that fill this role in a family and the pivotal function they play to the vitality of the family as a whole in both the dedicated time, positive influence, emotional connection, and financial gifts shared with their nieces/nephews. I must admit that both receiving the email and reading the article were wonderfully validating. Here was someone that understood how important this role was in my life and an article that acknowledged the value I brought to my family's life.
All of us can agree that motherhood is a life-affirming role, and also one not all women are blessed with experiencing for any number of reasons. I myself haven't been blessed with a child of my own; at this point in my life I should probably say WASN’T blessed with a child, since that seems more reflective of the fact that at 48 it’s not ever going to happen, as opposed to HAVEN'T with its implied ‘yet.’ Nonetheless, I do feel like God blessed me with the next best thing - to be an Aunt – for it has been and continues to be one of the most joyous, rewarding, fulfilling, and awe-inspiring experiences in my life.
As most or some of you know, I've been blessed with two nieces and three nephews by my two brothers. I’ll admit that while I love all of my nieces and nephews deeply, I do have a special bond with the two youngest, the infamous knuckleheads that are at the forefront of my daily thoughts, worries and prayers and regularly mentioned here. I was just out of puberty and on the cusp of becoming a self-absorbed teenager more focused on pimples, Regents exams, and the lack of invites to the prom when my older, by 12 years, brother had his kids. So while I loved kids then as much as I do today, my nieces and nephews especially, my nurturing or mothering gene hadn’t really kicked in yet. With my knuckleheads on the other hand, well, they entered my life 16 and 18 (almost) years ago respectively and have been the sun around which my heart revolves ever since.
Of course, I’d be lying if I said having nieces and nephews completely silenced the nagging toll of my biological clock, especially in my younger years while the clock still actually ticked, now it’s either gone digital or run out of batteries. It’s pretty quiet in there. I would have loved to experience the miracle of pregnancy or to experience that undoubtedly soul-stirring moment when a small, more perfect version of yourself and the man you love looks at you and utters the word Mom. The dreams were sweet; Noah and Noelle, those would have been their names, and I, of course, would have been the most perfect of moms – patient, understanding, loving, forgiving, cool (not sure how I would've pulled that off since I've never been cool a day in my life, but it's a dream people) and a wiz on homework, mending broken hearts, and motivational speeches. But alas, it was not to be. Luckily, though I didn’t get to experience the above, the dreams were replaced by a reality just as sweet.
Thanks to my knuckleheads and my sister-in-law and brother who have kindly shared them with me, I got to change poopy diapers, soothe fears, read bedtime stories, wipe tears and boogers, watch cartoons with warm little bodies snuggled by my side, attend special friends breakfasts at school, organize Easter basket scavenger hunts and exploding watermelon experiments, participate in dance-offs (a sight to behold), sit through choir recitals, cheer at baseball, basketball, and what seems thousands of soccer games, help with school projects and studying for tests, share and help instill in them my love and trust of God, anxiously sit in waiting rooms during surgeries for ear tubes, removed adenoids and a broken ankle (God willing the last), sit in judgment of new girlfriends (all totally unworthy), help with college essays, and now worry about driving, college and the unknowable (but hopefully bright and happy) future. Most importantly, I got to love wholeheartedly and unconditionally, and was (am) loved in return.
In short, aunthood, it's the best, I love it! Much like parenthood, aunthood doesn't come with a how to manual, but if you're new to the role, I found you'll never go wrong if you rely on this quote as your guiding principle, “Every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her.” Be that person.