Eclectic Aunt Susan became just Aunt Susan, but that's OK, too

January 12, 2003|By SUSAN REIMER

I was a globe-trotting single career girl when my three younger sisters started having babies. Back then, I didn't think my future held the possibility of children, so I doted on my nephews, and then my nieces, as they started arriving, one right after the other.

I promised these swaddled babies, sleeping in my arms, that I was going to be their "eclectic Aunt Susan." The one who would breeze into town from someplace exotic and take them to live theater and then dinner at a fancy Chinese restaurant.

I would be the aunt who sent them the occasional $20--- as well as a book I determined they should read. The aunt who would hear their confessions and, without asking a single question, rescue them from trouble.

Life did not follow the script I whispered into their infant ears, and I indeed had children of my own. Eclectic Aunt Susan became Working Mom Aunt Susan and the carriage rides in Central Park and the spring breaks in Paris never materialized.

I sent money to them in college, but it was only the occasional $5. And I couldn't have recommended a single book because I was always too busy to read. Live theater and dinners in fancy restaurants gave way to Disney videos and take-home Chinese food.

But if my relationships with my sisters' children did not turn out like I planned, they became something I would have never imagined.

I think we are friends.

The first evidence arrived with their enthusiastic response to an invitation to attend the Army-Navy Game at Giants Stadium -- with me. True, I supplied the tickets and I bought the beers, but Rudi and Bill, now in their 20s, cheerfully drove 10 hours and sat in the freezing cold with their Aunt Susan. I think I speak for everyone when I say we had a blast.

But my suspicions were confirmed over Christmas when my nieces and nephews chose to sit at the kitchen table and banter with me, as well as their other aunts and uncles.

For the first time in all our Christmases together, the kids weren't in the TV room fighting over the remote or hanging on our elbows whining to leave.

We talked about President Bush and Iraq, as well as the relative merits of Maxim and Playboy magazines. The kids explained to us grown-ups the recipe for a Cosmopolitan and the merits of expensive beer.

They talked about their relationships with the opposite sex, and what had gone wrong. We compared the misadventures of our youths, though some stories were more dated than others.

We talked. And it was much, much more than the usual one-sided holiday conversations between adults and kids: "Wow, you've gotten big. What grade are you in now?" "How's school?" "Got a girlfriend?"

And for the first time, the nephews and nieces expressed curiosities about the family tree. "Is Uncle Darwin actually my uncle?" "What is a second cousin?"

To our surprise and delight, they noticed that each of the four aunts had little bits of the other three in her manner, and they laughed at the combination of eccentricities.

My sisters and I quietly congratulated ourselves for pulling the next generation into the family conversation, but I warned them that this window might not remain open long.

"Pretty soon, we will be telling the same stories for the 30th time or talking about our latest operations, and they will leave the room again," I said. "We are only going to be interesting to them for a very short time. Then we will be boring again."

I never became the eclectic Aunt Susan I planned to be. It was a romantic ideal, a kind of Auntie Mame, and I regret the loss of it. I was going to open the doors and windows of the world for those children in a way their own mothers and fathers might not dare to do.

Instead, I have become something like an interesting, if occasional, pal. I went to a movie and out to drinks with one nephew. Another endured my candor on the subject of safe sex. They fearlessly introduced me to their real friends. They bantered unreservedly with me, but never shrink from my embraces or my kisses.

I guess the only way to describe it is to say that I am their Aunt Susan, and for me, the experience has been eclectic.

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