My Nephew is Now My Latch-Key Child
“Being exempted from motherhood has allowed me to become exactly the person I believe I was meant to be: not merely a writer, a traveler, but also–in a quite marvelous fashion–an aunt.”
-Elizabeth Gilbert, “Committed: A Love Story”
(more quotes to follow)
My nephew Sebastian (you’ve met him before) just started at a new school, only a few blocks from my apartment. Some days he gets out of school before his mom gets off of work, and so he’s going to come to my place. Sometimes I’ll be there, but sometimes I won’t, and so he has his own key. I leave snacks for him on the counter for days when I know he’ll get there before I do.
It’s a pretty bad-ass situation for everyone involved.
* * *
See, I just don’t know that I want kids of my very own. I mean, sometimes I’ll think about how amazing I am and what a shame it would be to waste such fine DNA…but then I leave the house and see, you know, ANY PERSON with a child of their own, and I think, “Pass.”
“Unlike so many of my friends, I did not ache with longing whenever I saw an infant. (Though I did ache with longing, it is true, whenever I saw a good used-book shop.)”
Be it known: I am a bad-ass Auntie/Nanny/Big Sister. I am known within my family as “The Baby Whisperer.” I can get any child to sleep. I can change a cloth diaper. I can get your kid to eat his green beans. Happily.
“Jane Austen once wrote to a relative whose first nephew had just been born: ‘I have always maintained the importance of Aunts as much as possible. Now that you have become an Aunt, you are a person of consequence.’ “
But I am not perfect. If I were to write a memoir of my high school and college years, I would title it “Nanny Sarah Has a Hangover.”
That is real.
As real as being in charge of a whole other human being, so that when you are singing “We don’t want no peace, we want equal rights and justice” (Peter Tosh), and they say, “But Auntie Sarah, we DO want peace!” you realize that every damn thing you do is shaping their little worldview. That is heavy shit, Friends.
Or maybe you let your little sister sit on your lap and “pretend” to drive, and the next thing you know, you are facing the wrong way in a left-turn lane on one of the busiest streets in Salt Lake City. Maybe that happens. I don’t know. This is all just hypothetical.
I may not have kids of my own, but I can tell you right now that the best sentence to sum up how it feels to have such a pliable, precious little life in your hands is this: “Wow, this really escalated quickly.”
* * *
But, you know, I’m not a mom. I’m an auntie, a nanny. Which means that I get to do things like go running off to South America, which I will almost immediately regret. Ah, but that’s how we learn, is it not, Friends? Gilbert touches on that in Committed, talking about an impulsive and possibly regrettable trip to Cambodia, saying:
“One obvious way to read this story, of course, is that perhaps I should never have gone there in the first place–or at least not at that moment. Perhaps my trip had been an excessively willful or even reckless move…Perhaps this had been no time for me to go proving my independence, or laying down precedents for future freedoms, or testing the boundaries of intimacy. Perhaps I should have just stayed there in Bangkok with Felipe by the swimming pool the whole time, drinking beer and relaxing, and waiting for our next move together.
Except that I don’t like beer and I would not have relaxed…I went to Cambodia because I had to go. It may have been a messy and botched experience, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have gone. Sometimes life is messy and botched. We do our best. We don’t always know the right move.”
And THAT, Friends, is the legacy I would like to leave to all my special little friends. We do our best. That’s all we’ve got.
Plus, you know, somebody has to be the black sheep, the adventurer, the loose cannon. Somebody has to be there to show them that there are other life options than college-marriage-mortgage-babies. Like going to South America. Even though, in the end, it’s a bust.
Because sometimes you are on your own–no husband, no children–and it is NOT a bust. Sometimes…
“A peculiar feeling of composure and harmony usually settles on me when I’m moving solo through a new landscape.”
And I will encourage all my little friends to seek that, even if I am the only voice doing so.
ESPECIALLY if I am the only voice doing so.