On Being Aunt

Years ago I dubbed myself Luckiest Aunt in the World, and Charlie (10) and David (6) are two of the reasons why. I’ve just wrapped up a tiring and rewarding nine-day trip where I was charged with taking care of these two bright and active children. My cousin and her husband were planning an extended trip, and I was the lucky one to receive the invitation to help out. As Aunt Donna, I would be a new parent – a single parent – caring for someone else’s children in someone else’s home. My learning curve would be fast and steep.

While this was not the first time I have spent days in a row acting as Substitute Mom for young ones or teenagers, it was my longest stint. And since I do not have children of my own, I’m certainly not accustomed to being a parent, much less a single parent (aunt)! Thankfully I see the boys once or twice a year, and have watched over them before, so we are not strangers. And whether they have asked me to operate on (i.e. stitch up) an injured stuffed animal, or if they can lick the bowl after we’ve mixed the cake batter, or to cut the meat on their plate, they have known me all their lives and they trust I will take good care of them. We are family.

And so before the parents left, I learned about school schedules, basketball games, church activities, homework options, favorite foods, TV parental controls, orthodontia head-gear, dog food, fish food, vitamins and medicine, trash pick-up days, and where the goldfish crackers, water supply cut-off, and extra toilet paper were.

Being Aunt meant that I could probably relax the rules a little, the boys could eat dessert before dinner, and we could stay up late without getting in trouble. We could hike through the snowy woods and not worry about how muddy we got after throwing rocks at the thin ice on the pond.

The parents left me their keys to their kingdom (car, house, etc.) and they were gracious, kind and trusting in leaving me full reign over their precious young children. Over the course of the week, the boys and I shared life. I took care of them and we grew together; they easily accepted that I may do things differently than their parents. (I easily accepted that I better not mess these kids up!) In no particular order are a few of my notable epiphanies and observations:

  • Using a timer saved us: Not used to the morning routine of getting children off to school, I found setting my iPhone timer helped us all keep moving: “Ok, boys, we have 9 more minutes to finish breakfast”, and later “we leave in 4 minutes,” actually worked!
  • Accidents (THAT kind) can, and will, happen.
  • I have the power. I’m not sure why, but even though the boys are well-behaved, it was always a pleasant surprise when I’d issue decrees of “no more sugar” or “time to brush your teeth” that the children complied.
  • The take-away is a powerful thing. When we were headed out for a special treat of hot chocolate and a Krispy Kreme donut and bad behavior erupted in the mini-van, I canceled the outing and made a u-turn back to the house. (While I did not want to be The Mean Aunt, the bad behavior was egregious enough that I had to make a statement.) They miraculously became their angelic selves again.
  • Six-year-olds sleep like spaghetti: Determined to snuggle and fall asleep with Aunt Donna, David moved like he was playing a game of Twister so he could get the snuggling “just right”. Oddly, one night his “just right” spot was with his head on my laptop keyboard as I worked (well, tried to work).
  • Bedtime stall tactics: I probably did not see through all of them. Pleading announcements like “I’m soooooo hungry, can’t I just have one little piece of bread?” gave me pause. As Aunt, I had a fleeting fear that I was starving the child. (I wasn’t!) Would a real parent have had the same doubt?
  • World War 3? Had it been headline news, I may have heard it about a few days after it started. Somehow I lost all track of the outside world and ceased being a CNN news junkie. My focus was elsewhere.
  • Mornings are much easier when you shower and dress before waking the children.
  • Getting bulldozed and bear hugged by a 6-year-old who exclaims, “It’s been sooooo long since I have seen you!” after a he’s spent a mere half day at school, is nothing except sweet and touching.
  • Where was the push-back? While it was possible that I could have heard “Well, my MOM does it this way”, or “my dad says we CAN watch TV 12 hours a day”, or “You’re not my REAL mom”, there wasn’t one comment that came close to that.
  • Goals are good. “I need you to go through the house and find 5 misplaced things that belong either in your room or in the laundry.” It became a game (success was easily achieved) and it worked.
  • Divide and conquer. When too-much-togetherness became the theme of the day, it paid off to separate the children and alternate giving them one on one attention.
  • Art is sweet. When I had suggested making welcome home signs for the parents, I had no idea the 10-year-old could and would then secretly make a Thank You/We Love You card for me. Wow.

And so the real parents returned safely and saw their children were healthy, happy and each still in one piece. I had to say “see ya later” today, but I’ll still claim that I’m the Luckiest Aunt in the World.

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