Saturday, February 15, 2014

I Will Always Have Gum

I just became an aunt for the 6th time.  My sister and her husband welcomed a daughter a few weeks ago. Looking at her, I think about my own children, who are much closer to leaving home than coming home for the first time.

I see my sister in the position I was in almost 14 years ago.  My job at that time to was to keep the baby fed and clean, warm and safe.  That was a tall order, when you throw in the navigation of new family dynamics, grabbing sleep where I could, showering only once a week, eating donated food or pure junk, and generally feeling completely overwhelmed.

But that wasn't the hard part. Not by a long shot.

Because that baby grows up - rather swiftly, I might add - and soon her needs extend to help with homework, negotiations about appropriate clothing, debates over independence, and long talks about the potholed road of friendships and love.

And then she discovers that you are, in fact, a human being, with flaws and vices and needs of your own. That you can screw up royally and make her cry.  Eventually, you can't hide your skeletons in the closet anymore, because your kid is in there, looking for a pair of shoes to borrow, or the hidden Christmas presents, or flat out asking you what your problem is.

Just as suddenly, she is in high school, and you realize in 4 years, she will be gone.  I find myself reliving my daughter's childhood over and over again - the parts I can remember - to judge my successes and failures, to make sure she has been, and will, be happy.

Whew.  Breathe.

One thing my sister has working in her favor, raising a daughter in this day and age, is that the world is a lot more realistic about what the typical family looks like, and what really happens around the dinner table (or, if we're being honest, the coffee table with the TV on).

When my parents were growing up, they had Leave it to Beaver and My Three Sons as their guides. Dinner on the table at 5:00, served by mom in pearls and heels, dad sharing witty truisms and the boys dealing with problems like accidentally breaking a lamp or the dog eating their homework. As I was growing up, I remember The Brady Bunch and The Cosby Show.  Blended families were now OK, kids had bigger problems, like puberty and fender benders, but still, the parents always saved the day.  Now, my children are watching Modern Family and The Middle.  The parents in these shows constantly blow it - the kids are often far smarter and more together - and usually, there is not a pithy, happy ending, but the acknowledgement that life is not, can not be, perfect.  Sometimes a bucket of chicken at 9:00 p.m. with your bra resting comfortably in the chair next to you is the best you can do for your kids.  And no one will die because of it.

In fact, maybe it lets your kids know that no one expects them to be June Cleaver when they grow up.  That the pressure is off.

My niece is a lucky girl.  She's got wonderful parents, and I know she will have a happy life.  She is already so loved and cared for, and as her aunt, I get to spoil her rotten and be her buddy.  I get to watch a new, sweet little life grow and learn, as my own kids fly the coop.  And one thing she can count on, one thing I can guarantee, is that I will always have gum.

Until next time, keep crowin' - and seeing the beauty in your family's imperfections.

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