[pronunciation: Pear-Aunt or Pair-Ant. Like ‘parent’, but with less hard earned stretch marks and better sleep habits]
- a normal, fun aunt…but with a side order of extra duties and responsibilities often associated with parenting
- supremely lucky woman
Do you remember the 90’s sitcom, Roseanne? Yeah? Do you remember Roseanne Barr’s quirky, perpetually single, always around sister, Jackie?? Yeah? Well….that’s me. So much so, that my brother-in-law has me listed as “Aunt Jackie” in his cell phone. I’m like a sister wife, (without the twice a week ‘sleepover with benefits’). And I’m grateful for it.
My older sister, Kate, is married to a helluva guy, Shane, and the two of them, (since clearly they couldn’t keep their hands off each other), have 3 beautiful daughters; Neave (9), Tily (8), and Poppy (4). So far, Kate is the only Murphy girl to produce miniature offspring. It may be in the stars for Kerry, (who is married to a wonderful guy herself), but I’m not so sure it’s in my cards.
I always assumed I’d have children. I assumed it the way you assume a lot of things about life when you’re a kid. Like you assume when you reach a certain age you’ll understand what a mortgage is and so you’ll get one of those, and you’ll get a spouse, and you’ll just innately understand things like how to host a dinner party, and why scotch guarding is important. A shopping list of adulthood so to speak. It’ll all just miraculously come together when you’re old….like when you’re 27.
Then suddenly, without even noticing it, you actually become an adult. A full-fledged participating member of society. You realize that 27 may mean a lot in dog years, but not so much if you’re a human being. You’re rapidly introduced to what my dad fondly referred to as “The RW”: The Real World. Sometimes as he’d drive us back to university, zipping along the highway in our overstuffed minivan, we’d reach the city limits and dad would suddenly be overcome by an imaginary shift in the stratosphere. He’d act stunned, like he’d just witnessed some sort of paranormal activity. He’d turn to us and say;
“Girls, did you feel that?”
“No Dad, feel what?”
“That force field. I think it was the RW girls. It’s all around you. Did you even know all this existed past the end of your own noses”?
You want the truth? No. No we didn’t.
When the Real World happens to you, you know it. The cliché, “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”. It’s that cliché, realized.
In honesty, when I was a little girl, I don’t think I actually “dreamed” of what my life would look like when I was a grown up. I’d made some common assumptions, as we all do, but I didn’t know that I was allowed to ask, (or that I was supposed to ask), if I was ok with any of them. And whatever images I did project into my future, losing my parents young, never crossed my mind. We were “good” people and those sorts of things just don’t happen to “good” people. Oooooffffff! Just as that thought enters your consciousness, you trip and fall over a crack in the universe and land face first in a big ol’ steaming pile of the RW.
I’m about to turn 38. In about 3 and a half seconds. 30 frickin’ 8. How did 38 become my number? Where the hell was I when that happened? I remember it all, every magnificent, aching, exhilarating, humbling moment of it. But seriously? I’ve been alive for 13,870 days. How is that possible? I have so much and so little to show for it.
If I could go back to when I was only about 6,000 days old, and ask myself where I thought I’d be at 38, I’m guessing I would’ve said that I’d be married, I’d have some kids and maybe I’d be a movie star by now. Obviously. Because I’d been in at least one local community theatre play, so the leap to the silver screen was a natural progression. Yet here I am, multiple thousand days later, not married, no kids, and most definitely not a movie star. And yet, I’m wildly good with that. Happy even. Actually, more than happy. I’m joyful.
I was almost married. I almost had kids. I almost forgot to ask myself if I actually wanted those things. Almost. It’s not that I didn’t want that. I just didn’t want it like “that”. I didn’t want it the way it was. I don’t have an aversion to getting married or to having children, I just don’t want either of those things at the expense of losing myself.
I have friends who have the “mom gene”. They’ve dreamed of being mothers since we were children and would play house with our dolls. However, I don’t remember feeling pulled to be a mom. Though I think I’d make a relatively good one. Maybe. I hope. But I do remember other details from playing house. Like my fake mom name was “Yvonne”, because I thought it was exotic with the silent Y. I do remember choreographing dance numbers to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, even though I wasn’t allowed to watch the movie because it was too risqué. And I do remember daydreaming about adventures I’d have and things I’d create and how I wanted to change the world. I just assumed that I’d have a husband and family at the same time. I didn’t know that assumptions aren’t necessarily things you want. Or should have. Or will get.
Leaving my fiancé in 2014 was among the hardest things I’ve ever done. Not only because I loved him, but because it was a choice. I didn’t have a choice when my dad died. And when my mom died, though we had to choose when to stop life support, I knew the end was inevitable. With my ex, nothing was inevitable. Everything was a choice. Over and over again. I knew when I left him, at age 35, that I might not meet someone else. That I might “run out of time”. And I had to be ok with that. And I was. And I am. In fact, my current self is grateful to my past self for making that hard decision. For being brave. I love that courageous and wildly broken girl. She gave me my now. And I thank her for it.
So, back to Mom-hood. Mom-dom. The Mother-Load.
38. Apparently that’s old in the land of ovaries. I’m not married. I don’t have a significant other with whom I want to create more people. And though I deeply respect those women who choose to mother alone, I’m not sure that it’s the right path for me. So, where does that leave me? Our society doesn’t really know what to do with single, childless women over a certain age. We scare people. We’re taken less seriously. People worry about us. Our singledom can intimidate some women, while others live vicariously through us. Some just think we’re selfish. Some think we’re out for their husbands and to others still, we personify their own fears about being alone. And inevitably, at a certain point, we get asked questions; “What will happen to you? Who will take care of you? If you don’t have children, then what was all this really for? Will you die alone”?
And to those I answer, in order:
*I don’t know
*I don’t know
*I don’t know
*I don’t know
But might I add….neither do you.
I hope I don’t die alone. I hope someone(s) take care of me if I need them, and I hope that the sum meaning of my life doesn’t rely entirely on the embodiment of my progeny. Because, holy hell, that’s a lot of pressure for said offspring. “Listen kid, it’s your job to make MY life have meaning! Now, off you go and enjoy your carefree youth, ‘cuz it’s all downhill from here”!
I don’t know what will happen to me, none of us knows. But I do believe we should invest in our friends and families, our communities, so that when you need to make a draw on the bank of life, those dividends will be there for you. So, I guess that is my answer to all of those tough questions: my people will be there for me, as I will be there for them.
Maybe this is where my role as a “Par-Aunt” comes in. I am heartily, full heartedly, heartsickly invested in my nieces. It’s disgusting how much I love them. I’m the annoying single lady who instead of showing pictures and videos of her cats, shows videos and pictures of her sisters kids. And I know it’s annoying you, I just pretend not to notice that you’d rather eat your own face off than listen to another one of my “Ohmigod, she did the funniest thing” stories! Social awareness be damned! I love gushing about those little hobbits!
I have aunts of my own. Strong, wise, kindred spirit aunts, who are powerhouses in my life. They always were, but they’ve become even brighter beacons since my parents died. I didn’t come from them, but I am OF them. So I know the role of “aunt” is a valuable one. I am striving to be to my nieces, what my aunts have been to me. A barometer of womanhood. A friend who can reflect themselves back to them. A soul mate. And I take my role very seriously.
Back to Aunt Jackie. Aunt Jackie never wanted to be Roseanne. She knew her place. And Roseanne never made Aunt Jackie feel ‘less than’ in any way. (I know I’m analyzing a show created by Roseanne Barr, but stick with me here). I don’t want to be my sister. I don’t want to be Neave, Tily and Poppy’s mom. For so many reasons. First of all, because they have the best mom in the world, (I should know, I come from her predecessor). No one could be a better parent to those children then the parents with whom they were gifted. I also don’t want to be their mother because being a mom is unrelenting. I’m around them enough to know they can behave like small ISIS terrorist cells. I’ve grounded them, put them on time outs, had them tell me they hate me and, I quote, “this is not your job Muggy”! Well…ish, kid. It takes a village. I’m glad that I can leave sometimes and let my sister suffer the wrath of the fruits of her own loins. Having children is like creating tinier, emotionally and socially inept, little versions of yourself who were sent to earth solely for the purpose of destroying you. They’re just a reminder of why sex is the original sin!
I’m also glad they’re not mine because I hate routine. Having children is like living in a low-res VHS version of Groundhog Day. This past year I’ve babysat my nieces for a number of months in a single stretch and I swear to God if I had to pack one more yogurt tube, or explain one more time why dental hygiene is important, or hear myself say “then what DO you want to eat?”, I was going to lose my flippin’ mind! I was one zip cord away from tying my own tubes in the garage with a bottle of peach schnapps and Billy Joel singing Only the Good Die Young on my Walkman. I talk on the radio for a living, but no one has made me hate the sound of my own voice more than those adorable little arseholes I am blessed to call my nieces.
I’m also reticent to become a mom because being a parent is like ripping out a piece of your own heart and letting it walk around in the world without you. I’ve witnessed the intense suffering of loved ones up close. It’s the most powerless, terrifying feeling in the world. I’ve experienced that feeling again recently when my niece was diagnosed with cancer. If I feel like this as her aunt, I think I might actually keel over if I was her mom. My sister is a hero. I’m afraid of having kids because….what if? And I can’t handle any more what if’s in my little life.
So I don’t want to their mom. But I am their Muggy. And that’s a special thing. Sometimes I hate my sister and her husband for making the choice to have these little people that have completely changed my life. See, so far, I’ve chosen not to have children. But my sister chose the opposite. Consequently, her choice has completely altered the course of my own life. Selfish really. Right?! (insert wink emoji here). I hate her for having children because my love for them breaks my heart, yet I love her for having children that have broken my heart wide open. What a jerk.
Me NOT being a mom, is NOT an unconscious choice. There are lots of women like me. Don’t pity us. We like ourselves. We really like our role as aunt and we just want to be valued and appreciated for that. We’re grateful that you let us into their lives so much.
But it’s a weird role. Because sometimes we’re like a prepubescent high schooler fumbling with the clasp of a bra; we’re really excited to have been invited to the party, but sometimes it’s hard to figure out just where to put your hands.
My sister, brother-in-law, niece and I spent weeks together in a hospital room recently at Sick Kids. I’m so profoundly grateful to them for allowing me into the inner circle of this cancer journey. Neave is not technically made from me, but, like my aunts before me, we are OF each other. We share something special. We are bonded in a way that is as impossible to describe as it is to deny. It was 6 am on the morning of her surgery. We arrived at hospital admitting, filled out the appropriate paperwork, placed the ID band on her tiny wrist, and headed to surgical check in. Once there, the patient and her two parents were escorted into the pre-op room. I watched them walk away, down the long, stark corridor, the walls dotted with dated cartoon paintings, their little family, walking toward a necessary, but painful evil. As literal tunnel vision set in, I willed them all the strength and courage I could muster. I then picked up all the coats, the paperwork and supplies and with silent tears rolling down my cheeks, I turned and slowly walked in the opposite direction. It is in these sort of moments that being a “par-aunt” is particularly difficult. You are reminded that no matter how close in the heart, or how loudly the fibres of your soul are screaming, you are always just a little on the outside of the fray. As close as you are to the fire, you are always, just out of reach of the flames. It was among the top 5 loneliest moments of my life. I would never compare that feeling to what my sister and her husband felt when they left their baby in the hands of surgeons, that’s not my point. The feelings are separate and unique, each valid by the sheer fact that they exist. What I am saying, from my experience, is that “Par-Aunting” is gloriously rewarding, tough to navigate and it ain’t for sissies.
Thank you to those parents that allow us to play such a mutually impactful role in your children’s lives. We are grateful. And to my fellow Par-Aunts, I raise my glass to you. You’re doing great kid. There are legions of us, the proud members of the Loyal Order of Aunt Jackie. From the bottom of my childless womb to yours, I honour you.