Yesterday was my nephew’s first birthday.
I only have one nephew – my sister’s son – and no nieces. I never expected I would be an auntie by now, and I often wonder whether I am doing it right.
I imagined that when the time came I would somehow be further on with my life. I pictured myself much as I remember my Auntie Jill, my Dad’s sister, when I was young – a fleeting, exotic figure, always seeming to be doing something terribly exciting like riding a motorbike around Brighton or playing the tambourine in a Cajun band.
Either that or I would be a traveller, stopping in once or twice a year on my way to or from an airport, a string of rhino teeth round my neck, pulling bizarre and unique baby gifts from around the world out of a large patchwork bag.
Of course I am none of these things. Aunt-hood caught me by surprise, before I was able to establish my exotic side. I am forced to content myself with insisting on always being referred to as ‘cool Auntie Joey’, but I’m not sure it really gives the same message. If you have to remind people to call you ‘cool’ I suspect you are not.
They live over 100 miles away too, so I can’t even be the helpful Auntie that pops round to babysit or bring casseroles. Not that I would ever take round a casserole, wherever they lived, but it would be nice to have the option.
Being a parent is more clearly defined. You know there are certain things you have to provide – love, food, shelter – and others you can get away with skimping on – clean clothes, fresh fruit, quality time…
Everyone knows that being a parent is tough, and you are allowed to be a bit slack sometimes. In fact, it is almost celebrated. Mummy bloggers everywhere, me included, share daily their shortcomings, competing jokingly over who can neglect their kids the most.
Being an auntie is different though, expectations are higher. I try my usual brand of ‘aren’t kids terribly dull’ wit, but it doesn’t go down as well as when I do it with my own children. When you call someone else’s baby boring, it just seems rather cruel and heartless.
The trouble is, babies are quite boring, and until they learn to talk and to appreciate sarcasm, I find it difficult to bond with them. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love my nephew, or that I wouldn’t instinctively jump in front of a speeding train for him, because of course I would, it’s just that I find it harder than some women to be demonstrably affectionate. I hope my sister understands this, and knows any lack of aunt-like behaviour is just me coming to terms with having to open myself up to a new relationship and working out what exactly aunties are meant to do.
If I am completely honest, there is also a part of me, albeit it a tiny part, that is jealous of my new nephew. I think it might be a form of sibling rivalry, only with my sister as the mother figure and my nephew as the new baby. I’m not sure it demonstrates a huge level of emotional maturity, but there is a small part of me that feels a loss. My sister has always been the person I feel closest to, the person who understands me best, and the small child inside me wants to stamp my feet and sulk at having to share her. It’s the same part of me that doesn’t want to be a grown up, that wants to stay 12 forever playing ‘Estate Agents’ and working on the latest edition of our home made magazine, The Banjo Times.
Life moves on though, and we can’t stay 12 forever, as much as we may want to avoid the slippery descent into middle age. But maybe becoming an auntie doesn’t have to symbolise the end of my youth – maybe it is just the beginning of something new, the chance to relive my childhood again through the eyes of this brand new small person. Let’s just hope for my nephew’s sake that he has a keen interest in stationary and likes to play ‘Post Offices’…