Who knew that being an Aunt would be one of the best privileges that life has to offer? I certainly didn’t until my nephew joined this world over eleven years ago. And then, it was love at first thought, and something greater at first sight. Hard to believe how quickly the time has passed, but the older we get, the faster it all goes. Just like my parents promised it would, which seemed impossible while I was awaiting my own milestone years as a pre-teen. But, once again, they were right. Of course, if you are a parent yourself, I am not telling you anything new. Each time I see my nephew, I see a change. Bigger, more grown-up, smarter, more handsome, and the list goes on. I feel so proud of him for the person he is and the one he is becoming. He is such a kind-spirited, gentle soul, almost an old soul in some ways even. Much wiser than his years, I think. Am I biased? Yes…but, it really is true. You know when you have met one of those souls. It is something that cannot be denied.
Growing up, I wasn’t around young kids a whole lot, as I was one of the youngest in my extended family, especially of the girls. I didn’t do a whole lot of babysitting, and I didn’t volunteer anywhere around kids, until I was in university. In my 20’s, I focused on my career, which does involve children, but I hadn’t thought much otherwise about getting married or having a family of my own. In fact, neither was really ever on my list. So, when my nephew was born, a whole new light was shed upon things. Becoming a parent is life-changing and becoming a grandparent is fulfilling in a whole new way, but becoming an aunt or uncle, for the first time especially, is an experience all unto itself. While you are not the parent, you feel parent-like; yet, you have the perks of developing a lifelong friendship without the obvious parental boundaries. Indeed, having a niece or nephew is a real soul-topper for sure.
Unfortunately for me, life circumstances have changed, and with that has come some significant changes in the time that I am able to spend with my nephew. However, it is one of those situations that is beyond my control, and so I am slowly learning to accept the way that things are now. The good news is that I am still able to watch him play hockey, and I occasionally see him out at our family lakelot. As well, I am able to pass along his birthday and holiday presents with the hope that he knows that, at the very least, I am still thinking about him even though we may not be able to be together. Each moment with him, big or small, is treasured and always has been. And, two things will never change–the memories that he and I have shared together and my unconditional love for him; nothing or no one can take away those two things, and for that, I am ever-grateful. Some day, when my nephew is a little bit older, I hope that he will have a better understanding of why I have had to step back from his life. Two familiar sayings come to mind here: “If you love something, set it free…”, and “I love you enough to let you go (for now)”. Ultimately, I have chosen to fade into the background to prevent him from being put in the middle of a very difficult adult situation that has nothing to do with him. Too often, as grown-ups/parents, we forget the lasting impact that our words and actions have on our children, especially when it is our own egos that are in the way. As a result, our young ones end up suffering consequences that are not even remotely fair or deserved. Knowing and having seen this happen many times, I have made a very heartfelt decision to put my nephew’s best interests at heart, and to do what I can to remain a part of his life in the best way that I can for the time being. I am here for him if he needs me and I always will be. Of course, some days it is harder for me to accept how things are over others, and holiday/birthdays are definitely the hardest. While he and I may be separated for now, I would like to take a few moments to reflect on his and my relationship over the years, and to thank him for all that he has brought and continues to bring to my life. Please allow me to indulge.
So, ____________, this is for you, Sweetheart….
The day that you were born, ALL of our lives changed instantaneously in an inexplicable way just because you were you. YOU were the missing link in our family, the one needed to bring a sense of completion to things: a special baby boy (the only addition in our immediate family) who would have had no idea the impact that your ‘being’ would have on our ‘beings’. Just your being here changed our ‘titles’ in life for the better, and the first year of your life was the beginning of much excitement and utter joy for our whole family. How quickly you learned things and how much you changed from visit to visit was truly amazing. Sleeping, laughing, cuddling, sitting up, crawling, grasping things, imitating, uttering first sounds and words, listening intently, investigating, eating solids, walking, talking, interacting, playing…I mean, the list was never-ending. And to witness it all first-hand was without a doubt awe-inspiring. I, personally, had never experienced anything like you before. EVER!! I remember babysitting you at your place and one of my favourite moments was always when I arrived at your door. The minute it opened, you and I were in each other’s presence…I was your Auntie Sue and you were my sweet, little nephew. What a feeling! I like to think that you and I have had a special relationship from day one; I know that I could feel it and I believe that you could feel it too. Even your parents admitted that your reaction to me in those early weeks and months was different from others. Everytime, I saw you, you were always smiling or giggling and you were ready to be held. ‘Ahh, that new baby smell…. I still remember it’. Yet, before I knew it, we were celebrating your first birthday. It was very cold that day, and there was a crazy amount of snow on the ground and still falling. We got to watch you eat your first birthday cake, open your first set of birthday presents and of course, help you play with all of your new toys. I made a scrapbook of your first year, which I loved doing– a keepsake for you to have and look back on someday.
Soon, you were long past the baby phase and into your toddler years. Your list of firsts continued as time passed, and I marvelled at each and every step. During this time, you and I enjoyed many a sleep-over, holiday and birthday celebrating together. We scooped up money with the transformer guys, played our version of the dice game, ‘Yahtzee’, watched ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ movies, coloured pictures, did math questions, decorated cupcakes, played fetch relentlessly with Duke until he needed a rest, read stories, made crafts/cards, wrapped gifts, coloured Easter eggs, tree-trimmed, slept (often with your feet in my side, which I silently loved), had watergun fights, went for walks and enjoyed blue raspberry slurpees together (‘our’ favourite flavour and colour). All of it was blissful during those first few years, and then, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, another milestone. School. And, life got a lot busier!
I remember your first day of kindergarten like it was yesterday and for years, I saved and played the phone message that you left me at the day’s end. Unfortunately, when we moved, the message was lost, but it went something like this, “Hi, Auntie Sue. It’s ____________. School was good. Made some new friends and got a treat bag. Had lots of fun. Bye.” My heart melted at the sound of your voice, let alone the fact that you had had a good first day. You made new friends. You had fun. What more could I want for you other than to be happy…
That fall, I believe, you joined Minor Hockey. What an experience it was to watch you little guys skate and learn new skills. I had an absolute hoot watching you play, and still do, by the way. And, thanks to you, I gained a whole new appreciation for the sport of hockey. Fall led into winter, wherein you bought your first set of Christmas presents for the whole family from your school store, thoughtful as always. I still have the presents and even some of the packaging that they came in, by the way. You also sang in your first Christmas concert and sometime later that year, you took swimming lessons. You spent a lot of time at Baba and Grandpy’s place, when not in school, as your parents were busy with work. By the time summer came, we all enjoyed camping together again at our family lakelot. There, we did everything from boating and fishing to watching you play in the water to goofing around with Duke to sitting around the campfire roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. We also played a variety of games from cards to badminton to ‘hide and seek’, collected rocks (some of which I still have), and my personal favourite was when you happily baked cinnamon buns for us all at breakfast-a perfect example of your giving nature and kindness, once again. You were as proud as punch to serve everyone a nice hot cinnamon roll, freshly baked, and we couldn’t wait to dig in. Yum!
When summer came to an end, it was time for school again (full days now) where the routine of it and hockey, combined with swimming, baseball and playdates would cycle through and occupy much of your daily life. We saw you mostly at holidays and birthdays, along with the occasional sleep-over and of course, at the lake in the summers. During your early grades of school, you were clearly learning so much and growing like crazy. Your personality was really shining through and I could see elements of each of us in you, though you were certainly becoming your own little person full of: character, kindness, curiosity, thoughtfulness, compassion, empathy and a hint of shyness. A beautiful combination. I had the chance to bring you to my work for the day on one of your own days off, wherein you took part in some of the day’s activities and played outside with others. I can still picture you looking so cute as you sat at one of the big kid’s desks with your little juice box that we had packed, taking in all of your new surroundings. I was so proud to ‘show you off’ to my colleagues and they were equally excited to finally meet you after hearing me talk about you so often. It was a very special moment for me, as I was your Auntie Sue and you were/are my sweet, little nephew.
When Darren came into my life, I wasn’t sure how you would feel about him, since you had never known anyone with me, except for good ol’ Dukester, the dog. But, as I should have guessed, you welcomed him with an open heart, and he became a part of both of our lives as if he had always been there. I loved watching you guys play together-my two favourite guys!! And, when Darren and I got engaged, I couldn’t wait to make you a part of our wedding party. Grandpy had been planning a trip to Hawaii, which sounded like the perfect place for a simple beach wedding to us, and so it was decided. You would be our ring bearer and along with the rest of our families, we would be able to celebrate together. It would be the icing on our wedding cake, so to speak. Having you there that day was extra-special! You waited patiently through all of the picture-taking, and well into the ceremony itself before it was your turn to help out with the rings. Clearly, you had taken your part seriously, as I remember hearing how you had prepared for your role well ahead of time with help from your parents. Afterward, you grabbed some neat pictures of everyone in the limo, and we all had a nice dinner together in that open-air restaurant, where turtles hung out in the ponds outside. You learned how to paddle-board with Uncle Rob the next day and attended your first luau, where you and I got temporary tattoos together. Later in the trip, you swam with the dophins and went to a pineapple farm from where you brought back fresh fruit and chocolates for all of us. When asked by Baba if you would like to go back to Hawaii, your answer was ‘yes’. One of my favourite memories from that trip, and of our wedding day, was the moment that you and I had our picture taken together on the beach, with the gorgeous sunset on the horizon; you were wearing your blue and tan coloured palm tree shirt that Baba and I had bought for you, and you had your arms wrapped around my neck with a big smile on your face…hence, the inspiration for the picture at the top of this page.
The summer after Hawaii, Darren and I moved out to our new house in the country-just around the corner from your place, actually. You came to hang out with us for supper one night and we played a few games of badminton, with Myrn our farmcat watching intently as our birdie turned into a plain rubber ball which flew through the air like crazy. Remember that? Later, when it was time to take you home, you and I came across a moose in the nearby field. I drove a bit closer for you to take a better look at it, but realizing its huge stature, you had decided that I had gotten close enough….that encounter still makes me laugh to this day. For Halloween that fall, you were our lone trick-or-treater out here. We were so glad to see you, and I had quickly realized how grown-up you suddenly seemed. Grade three already. Yikes! Time was/is definitely passing us by. And, now, here you are coming to the end of fifth grade. It’s crazy to think that you are already in middle school, enrolled in the Hockey Academy. Another three years and you’ll be eligible to apply for your Learner’s Permit. Wowee! So many ages and stages to go through yet. Life and all of the wonders that it has to offer are just beginning for you. I am so excited at what lies ahead and I know that you will go on to do great things. You deserve to have all things good in this world of ours. Remember that, “You are powerful beyond measure”, and that you CAN do anything that you set your mind to. I believe in you, now and forever.
Please know that just as with your Kindergarten year, all that I really want for you EVER is to be happy. While I wish that we could spend more time together, and that I could share more closely in all of the milestones that you are yet to reach, I want you to know that it hasn’t taken away from any of the times that we have shared, and it certainly doesn’t change how fortunate I feel to be your Auntie. And, when I am able to see you, it is time that I cherish dearly. I know that it is probably hard for you to understand why things are the way they are, but I can tell you that while it may not seem it, I have, and will always have, your best interests at heart. My hope would be that some day, when you are older, we can sit down and talk about things. In the meantime, please do not EVER question how I feel about you or how much I miss you when we are apart. I am your number one fan, in hockey and otherwise, and NOTHING will change that. You will always be my sweet, little (okay, not so little anymore) nephew whom I can still see as that splendid baby boy smiling and giggling, as I came to your door all those years ago. Thank you for teaching me about unconditional love and for being the best nephew that an aunt could ask for. Because of you, I have had the absolute privilege of watching another human being grow and change in ways that cannot be described or explained, other than to say that it is an experience that has filled up every fibre of my being from the inside out. The joy that you have brought me over the past eleven years is pure, genuine and irreplaceable, and I know that my life would not be nearly as rich or full without you in it. Thinking of you always!
With Love, from Auntie Sue.