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Great Aunts

March 6, 2009
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You’ve undoubtedly heard that it takes a village – or an army – to raise a child; last week, Melanie Notkin of Savvyauntie and loads of readers of the Times’ Motherlode reminded us that it also takes an aunt (of the sister and BFF varieties). I’m lucky enough to have three sisters AND a handful of voluntary aunts – those friends who brave Jack’s crying, wipe his nose, hold him while I cook the dinner I invited them to share, and buy him cuter outfits and cooler toys than I would. (One such friend offered when Jack was only three months old to keep him for the weekend – anytime! she said – when we needed a break. A, you might live to regret your generosity.)

Right now it mostly takes his father and me,  my mother, Cheerios, lots of patience, my second pair of eyes, an in-home anesthesiologist and a sophisticated closed-circuit surveillance system, but we contract my sisters as needed. So far, as proximity allows, the three of them have self-selected roles as diaper changer, pacifier and teacher. Of course, they all play peek-a-boo and perform custom song-and-dance routines.

This whole nephew thing is uncharted territory for my sisters, but we all have excellent role models for aunthood in my parents’ sisters and sisters-in-law. They were there for many of my firsts – seeing the ocean, learning to play Dreidel, climbing the Statue of Liberty, seeing a Broadway show, visiting our ancestral homeland. They’re responsible for some of my most formative food experiences (in my book, those are critical) – Japanese, Indian, buffalo wings, ball park hotdogs – and for my introductions to some of my favorite books, films and musicians. They took us on college visits and on annual summer trips. They’ve offered concern, encouragement and advice. One helped me learn to drive,  another helped pick out my first (and second. and third.) car, and a third lent me my all-time favorite tape to play in it.  From my aunts I’ve learned a million ways to laugh at myself and the best ways to throw a Frisbee.  You know, the truly important things in life.

While I know my mother also appreciated the above qualities and efforts, I think her Best of The Aunts So Far list would read a little differently. In hindsight, I realize that their visits were for more than playing with us. When we were very small, I’m sure the grown-up family time hovered over our little heads. Later, they had their own dinners and excursions or had closed-door conversations. I imagine they laughed a lot – at each other, about shared memories, brothers and older relatives – until we were Teenagers. By then, I’m afraid, my mother’s side of the conversation would have been largely populated with burning questions such as  Why can’t they get along? Do they just hate me? Did she mean that? Is she supposed to have a boyfriend? Should I be looking for him on America’s Most Wanted?

(So as not to leave out the men entirely, I’ll add here that uncles are important, too. Some of mine have helped to educate me in the valuable and complex arts of photography, Hitchcock films, barbecue and the Haruki Murakami novel, just to name a few. Jack’s are responsible for instrumental music, things with wheels and remote-controlled fun. But that’s another post.)

My present and future life as a parent contributes to the already massive appreciation I have for my big family. I’ve never been more glad for all those sets of hands, eyes, ears, voices and opinions, which ARE good for a lot more than shouting matches and out-of-control game nights. It’ll be awhile before they can truly spoil him or me, but Jack’s aunts (and great aunts!) already have big plans for him. One can teach him to speak Spanish and Chinese, he’s destined to be a White Sox fan for another, and the same aunt that saw my first trip to the beach will see his later this summer. (His youngest aunts’ ideas usually involve dressing him up in funny costumes or coloring his hair, but I’m confident that’ll pass.) And I will happily, wistfully teach him –  and any future neices and nephews – to throw a Frisbee the way I learned how.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 6, 2009 9:05 pm

    It sounds like Jack is very luck to have his family!… as were/are you…

    Man, this blog post was LONG Leslie. VERY impressive!

  2. Alleen permalink
    March 9, 2009 2:48 pm

    I’m still waiting to be taken up on my offer and am most sincere in reiterating “Anytime!” I’m sure such offers are super helpful given the donor lives a day’s drive away. But loved your post!

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