|Not your Mom. But, you're pretty cute, kid.|
I recently took the 3 hour drive from Pittsburgh to Ohio to help my Mom out with a few things in our family, thrilled that I: 1. Could drop everything and go to her, and 2. Would be cooking for a family that thinks everything I whip up in the kitchen is culinary gold. (Not to say Brett doesn't, but I'm pretty sure the man is tired of my meatloaf.) The interesting thing about my Mother's living situation is that my sister lives right next door. Like, right there. Next door. With her 2 kids and feral cat and new husband and RIGHT NEXT DOOR TO MY MOM. This means daughter/sister time doubles with Auntie time, and there is no real escaping it. Not that I would want to, but living in California-far away for so long left me with this nagging feeling I wasn't really good at any of these demanding roles. I could barely figure out the whole wife thing. Having to equally balance all other parts of me sometimes proved daunting.
But, this trip I was determined to master them all.
I've made no real secret that the idea of children, and having my own, dances around my head from time to time. I no longer accept my friend's proffered babies with panic and unease. Instead, I greedily reach for them, pretending to gobble their feet and wedge my nose into the baby neck fat, and do all of the things I saw other people do before and thought was disgusting and borderline insane. I'm not ready for children, but I want to hold everyone's baby all of the time, and I absently tested out a carriage in a Neiman Marcus before I realized that is was $3,000 and WHY THE HELL WAS I LOOKING/TESTING OUT CARRIAGES? I even murmured to my friend who was with me that the wheel system was "great for long marathon-type runs."
I have never run a marathon, and even MORE IMPORTANTLY I AM NOT PREGNANT NOR CLOSE TO BEING SO.
After wrapping some daughter duties up with my Mom, making a baked macaroni and cheese for dinner that everyone fawned over like it was cooked with shaved truffles, I called my sister and arranged to pick up my 5 year old nephew for some "Auntie and Elias" time. She agreed, and asked if I wanted to take her 2 year old as well.
"Both? Like, at the same time?" I stammered into the phone, as I sat on the porch and looked into her windows like a creeper. "I mean, am I allowed to do that?"
I don't think that exactly won her confidence, so it was just me and Elias the next day, and he met me very formally in front of the house. He looked over my outfit and awkwardly adjusted his glasses.
"You look...really shiny." He offered, reaching up to pat me on the arm. "I like your earrings."
"I like your shirt!" I replied, walking him to my car. "Where would you like to sit? Wait. I should know where you are supposed to sit in a car, but I can't remember. You don't have a car seat. Right?"
He squinted up at me. "I'm 5."
"Well, yeah. I know. But, you can't be in the front. I think."
"Mommy always lets me sit in the front."
"Are you lying?"
He smiled and shrugged. "No?"
"You're going to get me arrested by the end of the day. I think you should sit in the back."
He turned his huge brown eyes on me and pouted. "I just want to be close to you, Auntie. You smell so nice. Please let me be close to you?"
I melted, and at the same time helped him into the front THAT NOW I KNOW IS A DEATH TRAP FOR CHILDREN, SO HOLY CRAP, BUT DID YOU HEAR WHAT HE SAID? He was immensely proud of himself, and kept grinning over at me as we drove the very short, short distance to a local McDonalds.
Now, I hate, hate, hate, McDonalds, but this is not my child, and if he asks for chicken nuggets, he is going to get chicken nuggets and a romp through the very germy play place. And I will play with him there, and half heartedly try to get him to eat the rubbery apples that they now put in Happy Meals, and I will do it all with a frantic and manic glee because I WILL BE THE FUN AUNT. Some of my best memories of my own "dates" with my aunts involved contraband food and my first taste of coffee at 6. So, judge all you want, but you know you would do the same thing.
As Elias played, I nibbled on the remains of his slimy apples and chatted with some parents that gathered around the Flu Station. (a.k.a The neon play structure.) And I noticed something kind of amazing. If you had a kid with you, anyone would talk to you. I was approached by 2 woman and one young father, and they perched at my table and started gushing over my "cute" son, and "how great I looked" to have a kid.
I'm not joking.
I should have corrected them. I should have been offended. (I look 'good' for having a 5 year old?! Thanks?) but I was quite the opposite. I smiled. I preened. I said things in the middle of our parental discussions like, "Don't take your socks off, Eli!" and "Hey! Make good decisions!" As I good naturedly rolled my eyes at the other parents and shrugged in a gesture of "you know how kids are." My creepy role-playing was broken when Elias marched up to me, socks in hand and thrust his little face in mine.
"Are we still on our date Auntie?!" He yelled. "Do I get that transformer toy yet?!"
It suddenly got quiet. And I suddenly yanked Elias' shoes on and suddenly left my brand new parent friends that looked at each other with expressions that can only convey that I probably won't be invited to play time again. I sat in the car, feeling ridiculous and thoroughly embarrassed and wondering why I played along in that weird situation. I went in trying to be the fun, spirited Aunt- but left dragging my unknowing nephew out after I had turned into one of those desperate women that use baby talk and probably own a lot of denim Winnie-The-Pooh shirts.
Elias interrupted my depressing thought stream with an uncontrollable giggle.
"Grayson though you were my mommy." He laughed, shaking his head.
"Who is Grayson?"
"The little girl I was playing with. With the orange shirt."
"That was a boy honey. I think he just likes to wear earrings, which is totally ok if you ever feel like that is something you want to do."
Elias frowned at me. "Isn't that CRAZY?" He asked. "You! My mommy! I told her that you can't be a mommy- because you are an Auntie. I mean. Obviously."
I pulled a piece of chewed up apple from my scarf and reached over to ruffle his hair. "Obviously. Now. Let's see about that transformer toy."
We got the transformer, and we sat in my car for an hour as I struggled with the long instruction sheet and tried turning this cheap piece of plastic into a truck from a robot. Elias watched my every move, and was in awe when I finally presented the mangled and finished toy to him. We then went grocery shopping, and as he was shyly showing the cashier his new toy, she grinned at me. "Your son is adorable!" She gushed.
"Oh, he's my nephew, but thank you! I'm very proud." I answered as Elias stuck his transformer into my bra.
"You two seem very close." She offered, bagging my groceries. I was agreeing when Elias wriggled around to look at me.
"I DON'T WANT TO WEAR EARRINGS LIKE YOU SAID I COULD."
While I can't master every role perfectly, I can take it slow and assemble a toy in a car. Or shrug at a confused grocery store cashier as my nephew wails about not wanting to wear earrings as I offer up a lame: "I guess he's not into that look right now," and suppress a giggle. I can bring him home, and kiss him a million times and be grateful for the fact that I am an Aunt and not a mommy yet, obviously.
And then go home and drink a glass of wine with my Mom as I tell her that her daughter is a totally creepy, flawed, and weirdo human being.
But, very very good at transformer assembly.
Those fuckers are hard.