Privilege Blog

The Glories Of Aunthood, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:47am

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.

45 Responses

  1. Because of my identical twin, I sometimes feel my children have two mothers. They bear that with grace. That said, my sister is a great Auntie and I’m so glad for it. I’m sure your sibs are glad their kids have a terrific Aunt.

    “Because what with all that time mothering, we learn more about children than we ever get to use.” How true, how true–perhaps someday we’ll dust off that knowledge in Grandmother-hood.

  2. Oh I want to be an aunt! I won’t have children of my own, so I need to borrow someone else’s. But my brother and sister are not cooperating.

    I do have a step-step baby grandson, but he is in California, which is too far from me.

  3. I am not a mother, but I think I make a pretty good aunt. My nieces and I are quite fond of each other, perhaps because I have no mothering skills stored up.

    I do like the idea of a neighborhood where one could say such things to any child within earshot. It would be a very, very good neighborhood.

  4. I’ve always dreamed of a family compound with our kids and their eventual kids living on one large piece of property or a cul-de-sac is fine too. However, doubt our kids would think it was as cozy as I think it sounds. Does your mom live in Montecito? Curious, because my mom lives there.

  5. What a lovely rites of life post. I won’t have your experience until I become a grandmother since my only sibling has no children and my brother and sister in-laws are older than I with children also older than mine. I’m hoping I’ll still have some tricks up my sleeve when my turn comes around again.

  6. I am not an aunt and will never have the honour.
    You describe being an aunt with such passion…your neices and nephews must surely enjoy being in your company…and how lovely for your sisters to have an experienced set of hands on board!

    Enjoy your holiday.

  7. I love this post!

    It resonates as I have always been an aunt but only now at practically 40 am I beginning my own journey into motherhood. Which frankly is making me a bit nervous.

    Am rereading Tad Friend’s Cheerful money- the whole thing reminds me of you x

  8. oh, me too! I love being an aunt, and I love that my kids have aunts who also love being aunts. I have one set of nieces-and-nephew who come and stay with me (sans mom for a week each summer and there was a different set before that. The latter set are now in their mid-20s, and my now-towering nephew, who I used to haul shivering and blue from the saltchuck (because he, his little brother, and my son were having too much fun) and throw into a warm bath, surprised me summer before last by showing up with three friends and asking if I’d make him a blackberry pie because he’d told everyone about his aunt’s amazing pie crust (smart boy, eh?)

    For a while, I was lucky enough to find a new picture book featuring aunts (or, in my punning joke, ants) every Christmas and birthday so that when Nola was born, my nieces and nephews got together a big stack of hand-me-down aunt books for her. Go, aunts! We rule! Lucky us! — and I’d say, watch for For Sale signs on your cul de sac and go for it!

  9. may I just add that the surprise — vis-à-visof my nephew’s visit was that he lives the other side of the Rocky Mountains, about 800 kilometres from me, and he called from the ferry to say he and his friends would be here in a couple of hours. And of course he got his blackberry pie!

  10. “…Aunthood, when your own big kids have grown, is kind of like a pro golfer playing miniature golf….” Brilliant.

    I did it in reverse I suppose. “An amateur playing on a pro-course” … as the childless uncle/godfather who delighted in slightly inappropriate (age wise only) toys that moms and dads would prefer I not give the little charges. That was THE criteria for spoiling them. No practical gifts from me. Perhaps not as fun as experiencing it in the same chronology as you but delightful none the less.

    And I found a little Polly Pocket rubber high heel shoe on the rug here the other day.

  11. Love your words…being an aunt takes the pressure off. You can be your fun self. As a mother you sometimes get the worst moments (and the best) but there is the constancy. Have a great weekend!

  12. Every thought, every situation mentioned, every word you’ve said are so true and so universal; and the good fairy aura represented by this special aunt so very close to home…
    I am one of these very fortunate people to have experienced both identities (mother and aunt) with glee and now find every moment spent with nieces and nephews so very special! Oh how I wish we all lived on the same continent!!!

  13. Aunthood is a joy, a solemn charge, a particular shade of love. I aimed for Mame mode, myself, sneaking my nephew into Film Festival parties, buying a niece a first bikini. Yours are a bit younger, so you get to steal snuggly bath-moist hugs in which their whole-body-breathing leans into you and then tells a silly joke that might just be one word. Lucky, lucky, lucky, Lisa, and even luckier because you know it.

  14. We have been fortunate enough to have our niece going to college (Southern Methodist University) four blocks from our house. It’s been wonderful having her so close and watch her grown up from age 18 to 22. Such grace, such beauty of spirit. I love being an aunt.

  15. You are so close!!!!! How long are you here??? If you weren’t so busy with family fun I would drive up and beg you to join me for lunch or coffee. Have a fantastic time. Sorry the weather isn’t more SB for you.

  16. I don’t have kids of my own, but I have a whole pile of nieces and nephews. I’m the Subversive Auntie. Unfairly, three of them are in Shanghai, and we only see them in the summer. But the Red-Headed-Monkey-Boy (age 8) is around a lot, and he thinks I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread.

    Last week while at dinner with the whole family, he decided that he and I needed a secret handshake, which we invented and practiced behind a large dinner napkin, so nobody else could see. (I can’t share the details, of course, but try to imagine the love child of rock-paper-scissors and jazz hands!) Pretty cool, huh?

  17. Having raised three boys to adulthood, my mothering skills are the thing I am the most proud of. Hoping to use said skills soon for a grandchild. Hoping and waiting and praying for a granddaughter. I’ve earned it!

  18. Oh what a wonderful post Lisa. I love being an Aunt and since I have many nieces and nephews it is the most wonderful gift; Aunthood… The best part is having my gorgeous grown up niece just down the road from me here in Melbourne especially as my daughter is so many miles away most of the time in UK. Yup, I do give thanks that I am an Aunti. X

  19. I don’t have children and I treasure my time with my nephews. My younger nephew will be attending college and medical school (combined program) at my alma mater – just down the street! I’m looking forward to getting to know him better as a young adult.

  20. Only an aunt-by-marriage so far but love my aunts (though they often felt like Mr Wooster’s aunts, growing up) and meanwhile trying to be the best mum I can be to my gorgeous young man , all of 3 years old!

  21. I love being an aunt to well over 30 and great aunt to around 20 (keep losing count)..since some of them came when I was still very young myself they were almost like little siblings…having to care for many of them through my teenage years gave me lots of practice for being a mom…I have been pretty close to most of them.

    My kids have always liked all their aunts and uncles and getting to go spend time at their homes without me….my little’s have so many aunties and uncles that love on them…some that are more like other grandparents to them…they really are so blessed.

    I love your thoughts on this…when the time comes you are going to be the best grandma. Happy Sunday! XX

  22. I only ever get to be a ‘real’ aunt for a few weeks every summer when all of us converge at my MIL’s house, but the rest of the year, I am ‘auntie’ to the children of our friends and my children’s playmates. In the Chinese culture, our children are encouraged to address mothers of their friends ‘Auntie’ as a show of respect. Sometimes, you really are an ‘auntie’ the way you are to your real nieces and nephews; sometimes you are an ‘auntie’ in name only. :)m

  23. StacyfrPgh – How interesting to have an identical twin as an aunt. She didn’t have children?

    The gold digger – Clearly your family needs to step up to their responsibilities! :)

    Marcela – So true. I sometimes want to borrow the neighbor’s kids.

    Stephanie – They become the family babies:).

    Laura – Thank you. For motherhood too, I agree.

    Louise – I think aunt skills can come without motherhood too. Especially if we all lived in that neighborhood you mention.

  24. Mette – You are very very welcome.

    Kathy Peck Leeds – My mother lives below Hope Ranch. It’s lovely. And we just need to ‘manage’ our kids so they ‘understand….’:)

    Quintessence – Thank you. I’m guess this is like riding a bike. We don’t forget…

    hostessofthehumblebungalow – It’s been a great holiday so far. Thank you.

    deja – Perhaps you are an aunt to the wider world. Yes, I think so.

    FF – Nervous is OK. We are all nervous. And you are a besotted aunt, i.e., the best kind, and odds are it will translate very well to motherhood. Cheerful Money is exactly my background, only everyone’s a little bit more cheerful and a lot more affectionate:).

  25. Sydney Shop Girl – Much love to you and I will try to generate much sun as I can in a genuine manner:).

    Mater- Oh I hope my nieces and nephews come to stay with me when they are big. I would absolutely love that. So much that I might even learn to make blueberry pie…And that spontaneous visit! Sign of the best kind of aunt.

    ADG – Well thank you, sir. You were, I imagine, the uncle elf. The sprite uncle. Another wonderful archetype. Lucky little guys…

    Jody – Exactly. Motherhood means they get it all. Aunthood means you can muster up the best. The fun stuff. Thank you.

    Anna – Thank you. And how difficult to be scattered across different continents.

    Lori – Thank you very much.

  26. Duchesse – Auntie Mame! That is perfect. I had a long moment today with each nephew, where their bodies stilled, near to me. I am lucky to hear them breathing, just as you point out.

    Susan – That must be wonderful. If any of my nieces or nephews went to college nearby I’d even do their laundry:).

    La Belette – I will leave Tuesday. If you are around and free tomorrow afternoon, I’d love to see you. Are you really that close?

    Rubiatonta – Subversive Auntie! Yes! And in Shanghai? How so? The secret handshake is the coolest ever. I like age sunglasses….

    Marguerite – I sense your granddaughter is on her way. Congratulations.

    Sarah – Thank you so much. You mother your niece – I hope someone, some other mother, mothers your daughter just a bit. We can all trade it off. xox

  27. DocP – You will be able to do GREAT aunt service:). And I am sure I know just the program you are talking about…

    AN – Aunt by marriage totally counts!

    Lori – Oh. My. Gosh. You are a veritable professional. I only hope my grandma card is drawn some day.

    Buckeroomama – I love that part of Chinese culture, the usage of ‘auntie’ so broadly. Other cultures would do well to adopt that habit.

    Charlotte – It takes a village, not only for the children, but for the young mothers and the old ones too.

    Megs – I think one may never feel quite so fun as when one is an aunt. Thank you.

  28. Dear Lisa, You hit the nail squarely and beautifully in this post. How I love popping in to your blog! As you know I am up to my armpits in mothering but oh how I love being an aunt. I love kissing their dear sweet faces and hearing what is important to them and then I love that instant connection my children have with them, no matter the time between meetings. Most of all, I love seeing my gorgeous sister with her children and watch her face change from questioning to disbelief and ultimately dissolve into laughter. Family when we choose it can be wonderful. Lindaxxx

  29. Many of the points you bring up about Aunthood also apply to being a grandparent. We just spent the weekend with the G Man and while we had a blast (trips to the Cincinnati children’s museum and out to eat breakfast and lunch and hide and seek and oh! Let’s go ride the elevator and escalators again!! etc. etc.), I’m pooped. I simply do not know how people my age (late 40s) parent small children.

  30. I heart this. Fully.

    I’ve enjoyed being a nanny and an aunt with all of my heart, and I hope it works the other way around–that aunting helps you learn how to mom.

  31. My cousins think my Mom is the funny aunt. My stepson thinks she never yelled. One of these things is true.

    I LOVE being an aunt – you have the freedom to be fun & creative without the pressure to do it


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