Recently my cousin let me borrow her twin 10-year-old daughters for a weekend at my house. I have been wanting to take them for a weekend for a few years now, so I was thrilled that it finally worked out.
We had all kinds of fun, but some of the best times were when they were at my house in their pajamas, playing with all of the animals, or randomly bursting into song while accompanying themselves with one of the instruments in the living room (guitars, ukuleles, bass guitar, piano), or when they played video games. Guitar Hero and Just Dance were the two favorites, and the twins were a joy to watch play because they attacked every endeavour with 100% heart.
When their mom came for a visit and to pick the girls up, she said, "You know you didn't have to do all of this!" Referring to the shopping trip, night at the movie theater, and ceramics painting activities. I knew I didn't have to. I did it because I wanted to. Because it is my idea of fun. I thought a lot about what my cousin said, and about why I had wanted that visit with the girls (and want more in the future).
The answer was: Jan, Lisa and Julie. My three aunts.
I was lucky to be the first born niece in my family. First child, first grandchild, and first niece. My time as an "only" was brief, but well-spent. My aunts were very involved in my life and very available for me because they were young, and I was the first girl to come along for them to spoil. My Auntie Jan was unmarried, no kids yet. Aunt Lisa was married and had a son, but was still in her teens. My aunt Julie was also young and unmarried, no kids, when I came into her life. The attention they lavished on me made an impression that to this day I still carry with me and incorporate into my own role as an aunt, and even as a mother.
It wasn't because the time they spent with me was over-the-top or excessively expensive. On the contrary. One of my favorite memories was watching Donnie and Marie at Auntie Jan's house, then her giving me a bath and letting me put a wash cloth over my eyes to keep the soap and water out of them while she poured water over my hair. Still, at age 38, I hate having water run over my face when I rinse my hair. I remember thinking Auntie Jan was a genius for that rolled up wash cloth idea. I remember Jan singing to me, and making me food I loved. I typically disliked my mom's cooking when I was little. Not because the food wasn't good, but because I wanted hot dogs and macaroni and cheese, not felafel and tabouleh. All three of my aunts came through in the food department. And that has always been the way to my heart!
My Aunt Lisa used to put her facial masks on me, and give me make-overs. I don't think I needed smoother, younger looking skin at age 4, but I loved every seaweed mask and cold cream she slathered onto me. She pulled up a little stool so I could sit next to her at her vanity while she did my hair and applied under eye cream. She bought me a necklace with an "R" on it, which I promptly lost at a playground while I was swinging. She came over and asked why I was just playing in the sand instead of on the swings and I told her I was looking for my necklace. Instead of getting mad at me, she spent the whole drive home trying to cheer me up. I was cheered. All the silly faces and funny noises she made were just icing on the cake.
When I came into my Aunt Julie's life, I was 5 years old. I took to her right away, and she joined ranks with my other awesome aunts and immediately made me the center of her attention. She made time for just me, to talk to me and ask me about my life and what I liked and cared about. I remember her making eye contact with me when we would talk. Aunt Julie was never too busy to pay attention to me, when it was my time with her. She let me touch everything in her room without warning me not to break anything. She dressed me up in her tiaras and old prom dresses and told me I was beautiful, even without all the fancy stuff.
There were shopping trips at times, and outings. I remember a trip in Aunt Lisa and Uncle Jerry's plane when they flew above the clouds and told me we were in heaven. But the time with all of my aunts that made the biggest impression on me was when they talked to me, and listened to me. They made me feel important and loved, and I have never forgotten that. Those memories have stayed with me as a mother, and as I became an aunt myself. And as much as I have loved being a niece, I absolutely adore being an aunt! It's my turn to do make overs, and listen, and make favorite foods, and laugh at corny jokes and to let them show me how to do things their way. I have all the pets and all the musical instruments and I bake cookies, and I have every craft supply you could ever imagine. I know that I'm a fun Auntie Rachel. I know my biggest influences were Auntie Jan, Aunt Lisa, and Aunt Julie. And my inspiration is the impact their love and joy had on me.