As an only child of divorced parents, I have had many moments of feeling untethered in this world. Then I remember to cast my net a bit wider, and there I find my aunts. From Nebraska to Texas, they are quietly and industriously shouldering a part of the foundation of my life I often stand on and take for granted.
At any given hour, I can take comfort in the fact that I can find one of my aunts doing the following: watching the Huskers, asking me to play Criminal Case on Facebook, taking Grandma to the grocery store, having margaritas with work ladies or doing yoga stretches on the family room floor.
None of these women live in my city, but they form a critical part of my identity. Their mere existence brings me security and joy. I wish they were all around me like a Midwestern tribe. We would have such power in proximity.
My aunts are woven into the fabric of my memories. At age 5, I was thrilled to feel like an adult while dancing with an aunt to Bob Seger at a Nebraska wedding. At age 12, over Swedish pancakes, another aunt was very willing to try to conjure the exact date her boobs grew so I could compare my progress (I never did make any). My aunts appear in my mind doing Jane Fonda videos, cooking holiday meals and trying to reign in all of the cousins.
As an adult, I’ve found strength in watching my aunts conquer their challenges. When I could not control my classroom my first year of teaching, one aunt shared how hard some of her years teaching had been too. She described talking herself out of tears in the car and driving to school with her stomach in knots. Another aunt revealed her battle with postpartum depression as I struggled to get out of bed after the birth of my son.
My aunts have been there and made it through. Because they did, I feel like I can too.
My aunts also offer unwavering support. They fawn over pictures of my kids, share my work and have loved me from afar through some pretty unpleasant phases.
Now it’s my turn. I’m an aunt. I want to do the role justice.
I want to take my niece to Disney on Ice and play “people” with her. I want to paint her little fingernails and toenails and go shopping. Later, I want to talk with her about her boyfriends, answer questions about her period and buy her jeans that are way too expensive. I want to support all of her endeavors and stand back and watch with affection when she decides to act like an asshole.
I want to build Duplos with my nephew and laugh at his amazing ability to keep everyone on their toes. I want to cheer for him at sports, go to his art show or support whatever passion he finds himself following. I want to take him out to wolf down huge plates of food when he’s a teenager and hope that he gives me a few nuggets about his highly secretive life.
I want them to know that even though I’m far away, I’m there. But I don’t want this to ever be a conscious thought. Like my aunts, I want to work undetected.
The aunt role does not often receive the attention it deserves, but aunts are indispensable because they provide a different type of mothering than mothers can. Aunts provide that outside perspective. They are the cool one to the strict mom. They are the comforting one to the worldly mom.
So whether your aunts are front and center or across the country, take a moment for these lovely ladies. Let’s hear it for the aunts providing balance and an extra layer of love to us all.