Moving across the country was hard, and not just because the drive was SO LONG (have I mentioned how LONG the drive was?). Leaving family and friends is never an easy thing. I’ve done it before, but not when I had nieces and nephews. This time was a whole different ballgame. I love spending time with my kiddos. Over the last 8.5 years (HOW DID THEY GET SO OLD? I didn’t age, how did they?), we’ve gone on many adventures together, we’ve learned about music, we’ve sung songs, learned dances, watched “Baldy and Cheeny” together, fought with lightsabers, made cookies and brownies and I just have loved every minute of it.
Basically, I’ve spent a decent amount of time thinking about the cuties I left back west and I’ve wondered about how I *hope* I’ve made a difference in their lives. Obviously, distance doesn’t mean what it once did and I look forward to finding new and creative ways to stay involved in their lives. But these are Five Steps I’ve come with to put you on the road to being “The Favorite Aunt” (or uncle).
Step One: Have nieces and/or nephews or, you know, borrow some. Maybe you’re an only child, so biological nieces and nephews are out of the question. I was “Aunt Wendi” long before my siblings had kids. When my close friends had kids, that’s just who I became. And it was a title I happily embraced. I felt lucky to be invited to all of the important life events and be part of their lives. When my brother and sister started their families, I’d already had a few years of practice being a pretty awesome aunt.
Step Two: Care about what they do and say. I love listening to the kids tell me about their day, or about their dance class, or about how mean their sister was at breakfast. I like when my nephew tells me about the newest addition to his Transformers collection or how he built legos with his dad on the weekend. I love having these little people conversations. They have interests and feelings too and sometimes it’s a struggle for them to get the words out, but if you sit patiently and listen, they’ll realize they have an ally and an advocate and someone they can always talk to, no matter what.
Step Three: Share with them what is important to you. My kiddlets might not want to sit and listen to me talk about the history of Musical Theatre or spout random Disney facts at them all day. I mean, they like Disney stuff, but they’d rather watch POV’s of Disney rides on YouTube than listen to me talk about the food booths at the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival. So I try to sneak in some of my favorite things whenever I can. My niece “A” is 4 years old and one day we were watching some YouTube video and I told her about Puccini and Vivaldi because their music was part of the videos we were watching. And then I showed her some other videos, including The Piano Guys. And now she regularly comes up to me and asks if we can watch “Cheeny and Baldy” together. I think she thinks those are the names of The Piano Guys, but it’s a step.
Step Four: Spend time with them. Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, friend, whatever, the #1 thing any child wants from you is your time. In a world where a state feels it necessary to legalize “Free Range Parenting”, I think it’s important that while we’re providing plenty of freedom for kids to explore their creativity, kids also need meaningful interaction with their parents and other influential adults. I’ve been lucky enough to live close to my nieces and nephews so I get to see them regularly. Sometimes they come with me to run errands. Sometimes we read together. Sometimes we watch Julie’s Greenroom together on Netflix. Sometimes we just have wild and crazy dance parties. Last weekend, my niece “K” helped me make brownies for our studio recital. Or we play hide and seek or some other game the kids request. They really thrive with this personalized attention, and they remember that you were willing to give it to them.
Step Five: Bribery is a thing too. I mean, I definitely have expectations for my nieces and nephews and I’m not just the “fun aunt”, but sometimes it’s fun to “sugar ‘em up” and ship them home to their parents. Haha.
Obviously I call myself the “favorite aunt” as a joke. These kids are lucky to have so many aunts and uncles who love them so much. I do take my responsibility as an aunt pretty seriously. I’ve told Adam multiple times that if I would be embarrassed to tell my nieces or nephews about something I did, I probably shouldn’t do it. I want them to be able to look up to me and follow my example. I want them to be excited when they find things they have in common with me. And I want them to see what they can do if they work hard and try to make good decisions. I love my nieces and nephews so much and I hope they always know that.