As I get older the chances of having children of my own are increasingly slim. Once upon a time that might have bothered me. Occasionally I still pine to have kids of my own but it happens with less frequency these days. I have settled into a sort of contentment and realization. No sense worrying about what likely will never be. Also, kids are a lot of work.
Don’t get me wrong, I love kids. I cherish my time with my nephews and nieces and with my friends’ little ones. I never stop being amazed at the absolute trust little ones have for the adults they know, especially in my family where no one is immune to our general smart-assery. Their boundless energy is infectious, for a little while at least, and there is probably no better balm to soothe an aching soul than the laughter of a child.
I am content, however, to enjoy all this from a distance. As the aunt who doesn’t bring any cousins to play with I can give my attention to them, rather than worry about what my kids are up to. When they do something wrong, I can just remind them that mom and dad probably wouldn’t like that, keeping me safely in the “good guy” box in their little heads (though I think my thirteen year old nephew is wise to that.) If I change a dirty diaper, I am a saint, rather than a parent just doing what they are supposed to. It really is a win-win situation, well, for me.
There are trade offs. I love these babies (and mind you the eldest baby is a grown man now… sigh) but when it comes time for one of their triumphs I don’t get to fully share in it. I was glad for my nephew when he graduated and for a moment, felt pride. Then I realized I didn’t have any right to that pride. That belongs to my sister and her husband. I’m not angry about that, and only a little jealous. It’s not a bad thing per se, just the fact of the matter. When my niece wins a race, or her little cousin makes a basket, it’s mom and dad’s time to beam. Those moments belong to them and I am just along for the ride, which is perfectly OK.
Because it also means I don’t feel my chest get tight if they are five minutes late. It means no hour-long arguments over grades. It means not having to scrutinize every person they bring over and every parent in every household they want to visit. It means I can just, my occasionally wistful feeling for having those babies back aside, just accept them growing older, rather than worry if I did a good enough job to make them ready for the world.
Being an aunt is fun, but it doesn’t come with the rewards of parenthood. It also, however, does not come with the challenges. I will enjoy whatever time I have with those little boogies, my nieces and nephews by blood and by choice, and be happy being “that” aunt, who gets on the floor and plays games with them, and sends them to mom and dad when their noses are runny.