Motherhood Lite

With all the fun and half the calories, being an aunt really satisfies

| January/February 2001 Issue

There’s nothing like grocery shopping on a national holiday. Aisles teem with grumpy middle-aged men hauling cases of Miller Lite and buckets of salsa. Young low-lifes flex their tattoos and pocket soft packs of Marlboros. And above the hustle and bustle can be heard a distinctive and soothing sound: the lively chatter of children.

Yes, holidays mean Family Shopping Trips. What joy to hear the fresh young voices screaming at their mothers: "Not the TreeTop apple juice! Get the Capri Sun. I want the coloring book!! I WANT THE COLORING BOOK!!" What a thrill to turn a blind corner and nearly snap a 6-year-old’s spine with my shopping cart. Heavens, I almost interrupted his youthful activity––no doubt some whimsical game that apparently involves emptying the contents of each coffee bean dispenser from the bulk espresso bins onto the floor. And in the distance I can hear from Aisle 3 the sweet strains of a procreative lullaby: an infant, shrieking at the top of his or her little lungs.

Don’t get the wrong impression: I’m not your classic single gal with a bitter, jealous heart, masking my maternal desires with a cynical attitude. I didn’t have a horrible childhood, and I avoided the physical and sexual abuse that often makes people leery of having a family. Children themselves aren’t a problem. In fact, I rather like children—as long as they belong to someone else and are kept muzzled in public spaces. I reserve the right to change my mind and squirt out brats later on, should the biological clock suddenly take hold of my usually sensible uterus, but for now I’m into letting other folks have the morning sickness, hormonal swings, stretch marks, and college-savings funds. After all, why be a mom when you can be an aunt?

Aunties, like grandmothers, get to play with children and watch them grow. Like grandmothers, we can spoil ’em rotten if we please—the kids’ parents will have to cope with the result. Unlike grandmothers, we don’t have to produce infants ourselves, and as aunties we’re often younger than the kids’ parents. We can be a part of the beautiful cycle of life, the passing on of dubious genetic characteristics from one generation to the next, but without those pesky responsibilities. Where a mother has to spend most of her waking hours attached to her little ball and chain, an aunt can come and go as she wishes.

The childless auntie is both romanticized and satirized in our society: In books and movies, she might be a crazy old loner living in a haunted house with her dozen cats. Or she might be fussy and lovelorn, the sort of aunt who comes around the house entirely too much, like Charlotte in A Room with a View. Then again, she might be a dashing young career gal or entertainer, fluttering in only at Christmas to beguile the children with strange gifts from faraway lands. The intentionally childless woman is demonized, or at least questioned, by straight America, but the loving auntie is happy to satisfy her maternal instincts on a purely vicarious level.

In my family, the Wacky Auntie stereotype has kept things interesting. Without our Wacky Aunties, the whole family would have devolved into a dull remake of the 1950s. There were Clara and Louise, my great-great-aunts who lived as spinsters back East and constantly sent me wonderful little boxes, jewels, handbags, and trinkets from as far back as their swinging years in the ’20s. "The Aunties" were certifiably nutty and got me started early on a lifetime fixation with vintage shopping.

Cassie J.
1/7/2008 12:00:00 AM

I try to be like this now that I had to have mu hysterectomy. Its hard!!! Later the author of this story wanted to have babies. She blogs about it and what to call yourself if you are not a mom, pretty good blog so far.

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