For a variety of reasons, my sister Kate and I are estranged. It’s an ugly stew: childhood misery and competition and misunderstandings and stubbornness. When I dialed her once during a family emergency, she said if I called again, she’d block my number. Kate likes my husband and friended him on Facebook, so she sees pictures of our three boys, at least. The boys fishing. The boys playing. The boys making silly faces. She sees the pictures and she likes them and that’s the entire extent of our interaction. I heard about her divorce months later, from my mother.
She saw my 6-year-old once, when he was 4 months old. She flew south to visit and held him, played with him, went to lunch with all of us. She stayed four days. We were so grateful she’d made the effort to come. I have not seen her since. She has never laid eyes on my middle or youngest sons; nor has she acknowledged birthdays or Christmases. For a variety of good reasons, (including money, time, and very young children), we didn’t make it to her wedding. This seemed to be the end for her.
I wish she was in my kids’ lives. Even if she hates me, I wish she would talk to the kids. I wish she would call them, remember their birthdays, send them a loud beeping toy on Christmas. I wish she’d have more contact with them.
Their other aunts are involved in their lives.
They have two of them on my husband’s side, Jane and Elizabeth, and they never forget to send birthday presents, Christmas presents, even Halloween and Valentine cards. We travel up to Virginia to see them quite often, and their aunts always swoop them up in big hugs. They play with them, especially Jane. I know my sons wonder why their daddy’s family has such kind aunts and mama’s family has none.
They also miss out on mama’s childhood stories.
I can tell my kids about growing up, of course, but it’s not the same when there isn’t another voice to corroborate, to argue, to describe. My children do not see anyone, other than my mother, who can tell them what I was like as a child. I’m not asking that someone tell them I was a saint. But a realistic picture of growing up in our house would be invaluable to my children: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Kate is the only childless aunt in the family.
She would be the cool aunt. She was, once — when Blaise was born, she gave us wildly inappropriate 12 month hipster onesies. She could be the person who gives them perfectly horrible beeping toys, wildly expensive Lego sets, all those things childless people buy for children that parents won’t touch. Moon sand. Bunchems. Kittens.
Kate could be their lesbian role model, too.
My kids know, vaguely, that girls can marry other girls. They know a friend and her wife are both mommies to their son. But that’s not the same as having their lesbian aunt as an active role model in their life, teaching them more about acceptance, inclusion, and love.
We could go visit her.
Kate lives in one of the gay capitals of America — a diverse, fun place. We would love to go and visit with her, especially since a vacation there is prohibitively expensive if you’re shelling out for lodging. We could learn about the whaling history of the town, look for seals, and entrance the boys with stories of the great white sharks off-shore. Then we’d get ice cream. A great visit would be had by all. The kids would adore her for it.
She could tell them more about her job.
My kids see cops. But they don’t see cops. Not in the family. Kate could tell them stories about being a police officer; she has one involving a possum in a bar that always has me choking with laughter. But the kids would like to know about what she does. They idolize police officers. Finding out their aunt is one, and seeing her patrol car…For them, that would be heaven.
Speaking of heaven, she could play Legos with them.
My sister loves Legos. My kids love Legos. They all love Lego Star Wars. They could play together, all of them: an immediate bonding. Kate could show Blaise all the Legos from our childhood — the old ones, the good ones, the basic bricks that aren’t parts of sets. I’d have to tear them all away from the Lego table for dinner, and it would mean so much for my kids to have an adult who’d play with them.
“I remember Aunt Kate,” my oldest has said confidently. “She babysat us that one time.” And I had to say, “No, baby, Aunt Kate never babysat you.” He sat back, confused. When asked now, he’ll say, “I know the two of you don’t get along.” It breaks my heart; my childhood rivalry for attention and subsequent spats are none of his business and yet they affect all our lives still.
Kate tolerates my husband, so there is still hope. She likes his pictures on Facebook and might actually take his phone calls. He thinks she’s a wonderful person who’s stubborn, (which explains why she hasn’t spoken to me for three years), and yet kind and fun. “You’d like each other if you weren’t related,” he says. He’s probably right. She would like my kids then, too. And then they wouldn’t wonder about her, wouldn’t ask me why we visit their father’s brother and sister and not mine. She’d add a much-needed counterpoint to my husband’s staid Virginia clan.
I wish she’d talk to me again. Visit us again. She could tell the kids stories about our childhood. She could give them a much-needed touchstone to family history. They need that. But most of all, they need her.