Back in August of last year I became an aunt for the first time. As I have never particularly wanted children of my own, I was surprised about the intensity of feelings this new persona would unleash. Maybe it is due to age or the fact that the newest member of our family will have no paternal grandparents. Either way, I am enjoying being an aunt and am revelling in the unexpected joys and insights that this new ‘role’ have afforded me.
My little niece may have arrived in January but I most definitely became an aunt the day my brother and his wife announced they were expecting. From that moment on, my sisterly concern about their general welfare, health, long working hours, stress levels… kicked into a different gear. I telephoned my brother more often, reached out to my sister-in-law more and included the “bump” in my prayers. Of course, I also went into ‘knitting auntie’ mode (as did my sister)!
My brother lives in Ireland so I did not get to meet the baby immediately. As for many dispersed families in this day and age, the first details about the bairn came via text messages and emailed photos. These missives would have to keep me and my siblings going until the christening.
Unexpectedly, through a cruel twist of fate, I met the little lady at six weeks when I travelled to Ireland for the funeral of my sister-in-law’s father. I still remember my first glimpse of my niece. My brother and his wife were picking me up at the hotel to travel on to the funeral. As I came down a sweeping staircase into the foyer, I spotted a strong chap with a tiny baby in the crook of his arm. My heart swelled with joy! I had hoped to be charmed by my niece but had not expected to be overwhelmed by love for my brother. Seeing somebody I had known all my life, from cheeky boy through strapping rugby-playing student to confident professional, in the new role of father choked me up.
At that moment I realised, becoming an aunt is not just about the child – no matter how much this baby charmed her way into my heart! Thanks to this little girl I would get to know a whole new side of my siblings as they, like me, grow into their persona of father, uncle and aunt.
It occurred to me that in the past six months there had been another angle to the telephone conversations with my siblings. The expectation and then arrival of the little bairn had triggered new questions, shared trips down memory lane and an expression of hopes and wishes for the newcomer. Even discussions with my sister about the general state of the world took on an extra dimension. Suddenly we were considering social and economic issues through another prism. What type of world would our brother’s child grow up in?
Despite the geographic distance I really want to be part of my niece’s life. Many would consider this entirely natural but having never felt the need to perpetuate my genetic material, I was surprised by the intensity of this desire. Pondering over ways that I could share time, experiences and memories with her, I realised yet again what family means to me.
For me, the ties that bind me and my siblings are not blood lineage, DNA, inherited physical features… but the values that our parents instilled in us, which equipped us to navigate the highs and lows of life, and a level of understanding that comes from shared experiences that are unique to us.
I long to be part of my niece’s life as I would like to help pass on the quirky, colourful, precious non-genetic material that made us a real family. Through memories and stories of my parents, our childhood and my oddball life, I want to help fill this little girl’s life with wonder, foster her curiosity, encourage her eccentricities, reassure her that it is okay to march to the beat of her own drum, deepen her sense of humour, compassion and kindness… In short, I want to share my parents’ precious and abundant legacy with her!