Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Passions, Pleasures, and Pains: an Examination of Aunthood

I've mentioned before that I don't have children. The pre-Mommy years are rife with wonderful benefits, like lady parts that still maintain structural integrity, sleeping until work or social decency demand I get up without having to concern myself with anyone else's nightmares or poop, and of course, the only vomit I ever need to concern myself with is my own (okay, sometimes Dragon Queen's. Sometimes. It's rare, however, and she gives fair warning).

I'm sure I'll be a good mom someday--at least, I'm reasonably certain I'll remember to feed my kids and keep them out of crack dens. And I'm sure the benefits of parenthood will far outweigh the costs--or that's just some shit my parents told me in the hopes that I'll one day have children and they will have their sweet, sweet revenge, which if that's the case, I'll be paying that lesson forward as well.

But enough of my prospective, hypothetical motherhood. Blogs are filled with odes to parenthood, because parents think spawning makes them so very, very special, as though it's a unique condition that so very few experience. So I'm writing about aunthood (and by extension, unclehood. There's no unisex term. Also, according to Google, aunthood is a word, unclehood is not. Dear English language, you are sexist.)

Aunthood is not a unique condition, but it is rarely examined, mainly because it just sort of happens to a person, whether or not they are ready or willing to commit to the role. Also, a kid whose mom or dad is out of commission is playing with a disadvantage. An aunt can be a positive influence in a child's life, but the absence of one is unlikely to damage anybody.

If you do commit to being an aunt, there's a world of quasi-parent/siblinghood that has unique terrors and joys, which so far, in my estimation, is totally worth it and a shitload of fun, discussions of farts notwithstanding (Guinea Pig is fond of discussing farts).

For one thing, all the joys of parenting are present. Guinea Pig visited Niagara Falls with me last year to attend Canadian Baker's wedding. It was his first time seeing them, so when we arrived, I covered his eyes and walked him over to the railing, positioning myself so I could see his little face when he beheld the wonders of the falls for the first time.

The first time I saw them, I was in my teens. It was magnificent, but I never saw them through a child's eyes until that day. The look of awe on his face was overwhelming. I've never seen him so stricken, so moved, in my life. He stood still and open-mouthed, drinking it in with an aura of silent reverence before breathing a soft "Wow". And while he was experiencing one of the world's wonders, I was living it through him.

His ups are usually a high for me, although sometimes his accomplishments leave me weepy. I spent his first day of kindergarten ducking into the bathroom at work to cry, and I was teary last September on his first day of first grade. And one night a few years ago, I burst into tears when I was babysitting, and he, for the first time, didn't need my help getting into his little footie pj's, a melancholy he remedied by curling into my lap and telling me he still needed me for bedtime stories. He's smart enough to read people, loving enough to give them what they need. I can brag about that without shame, because the former, at least, he doesn't get from me.

There are some disadvantages as well, like when he's being a snot. It's nice, however, because when he's being a little shit, which he is more than capable of, I can call his parents and say "Ok, he's not cute right now, you may return him when he's suitably adorable again." Similarly, unless I do something deliberately and magnificently stupid, like testing his elasticity by trying to turn him into a human slingshot, any major gaffes regarding his development aren't my fault.

However, when he's in my care, it's doubly important that his limbs remain intact and in their proper place. Not only am I charged with health, safety, and happiness while I'm with him, but if I fail to provide/maintain those three basic necessities, I've not only failed him, but I have to answer to his parents, an added pressure that gnaws at me whenever he climbs into a slide on the playground or wanders behind a shelf at the library, disappearing however momentarily from my sight. And there's no autonomy like with parents. When he wants to do something, I'm not only worrying if I think he should do it, how many limitations I should impose if I allow it, what the ramifications will be if I don't, I'm also wondering if his dad or his mom or his stepmom would allow it, what their limitations would be, whether this would be something they'd even concern themselves with, etc until my head hurts.

A dusty hug and a sticky kiss when I bring him home aren't enough to mitigate those concerns, but they are enough to make me override them so I can spend time with him again.

The most important thing about aunthood is what it isn't. It isn't glorified babysitting, it isn't a practice test for motherhood with a test baby, it's a unique relationship that exists wholly unto itself. This is a wonderful little boy's life, and I am so lucky as to play a part in it.

Even if I do have to talk about farts.

No comments:

Post a Comment