One more special little niece entered the world about a week ago and so I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be an aunt. I have five beautiful little girls in my life who bring me tons of joy. A few months ago, I read Elizabeth Gilbert's follow-up book to Eat, Love, Pray. It's called Committed, and it's largely about deciding to marry after a long period of ambivalence. She also writes about the Auntie Brigade, a group of childless women who have enough reserves of energy and time to dote on their nieces and nephews, as well as to be roving aunties to the world. When I read it, I was like, "Hey, that's totally me!"
Over the past ten years, I've had so many special aunt and niece moments, and I can't help but think that some of them never would have happened if I'd been encumbered by children of my own. Recently, for one day during the Thanksgiving weekend, Matt and I went into full gear aunt and uncle mode and spent a full day doting on our three nieces. It was an awesome day.
For those aunties and uncles looking for ways to connect with their nieces and nephews during the holidays, here are the ideas we came up with.
1. Give a music lesson. Beating out rhythms is always great fun. If you don't have practice drum pads, use pots and pans and be prepared to cover your ears. It's even more fun first thing in the morning when everyone is still in their pj's. It totally rocks to have a cool uncle who bangs on drums.
2. Give knitting lessons. Or crocheting, cross stitch or sewing lessons, depending on your hobby of choice. The girls and I have been building up to knitting lessons for over a year. They see me knit at holiday gatherings and have always been curious. Last Christmas they sat on my lap and tried a few stitches with me. This year the two oldest told their mom they wanted to learn to knit at Thanksgiving, so before they came, I picked up some chunky 10.5 knitting needles and yarn.
The lessons went well and they spent a good part of the day knitting. Of course, they needed a lot of technical assistance along the way. The traditional rhyme used to teach kids to knit is, "In through the door, around to the back, peek through the window and off jumps jack". We found that this method had them asking me again and again, "But where's the window!". So instead came up with our own rhyme. "Go down the hole, chase the rabbit behind and through the middle, catch the rabbit, pull it out of the hole. And off jumps jack (rabbit)". Before they left, the oldest said to me, "This is the first year I haven't wanted anything big for Christmas. I just want yarn." We will see if this is just a fade, but either way, for the rest of their lives the girls can now say, "My aunt taught me to knit".
3. Playground Photo Shoot. It was very cold Thanksgiving weekend, but giving the girls time to run around outside was still very necessary for everyone's sanity. We tried to take holiday card photos outside, but it was just too cold so I got one good candid shot instead. Photographing the girls has been a favorite auntie activity over the years.
4. Make a time lapse movie. This was Uncle Matt's big activity for the day, aside from the music lessons. He showed them a couple examples online and then got out the tripod. The girls came up with some ideas, and then they got to work. They took 30 photos for this movie, which required lot of patience for the girls! They did great though and I can see them trying this again during their next visit.
5. Have a night at the museum. Our amazing local art museum has an adult and kid-friendly Friday Night Live event every week with music and special events. Matt and I took the girls for a 'just us' night out on the town.
We started out making finger puppets. The museum staff had a great idea to cut the fingers off of cheap work gloves and then have felt, pipe cleaners, feathers, yarn, fabric, markers and googley eyes on hand.
We got some candid feedback from the girls though that glue sticks are "THE WORST GLUE IN THE WORLD!" for making finger puppets. We had to make some emergency repairs after we got home that night.
After the finger puppets, we almost called it a night. It'd been a very very full day. Still, the girls wanted to move on to the next activity. We headed over to the Africa room, where they had sketching stations set up for the kids. The docent walked us around so the girls could decide what they wanted to draw. They were given a drawing pencil and a gum eraser, and then went right to work. Oh my, they melt my heart.
We had the docent all to ourselves for the first 10 minutes, so he kindly offered to sketch a picture of the birthday girl. I've never seen her sit so still.
After a half an hour of very serious sketching, we headed out. Unfortunately, we missed the music so Matt asked them what they wanted to sing on the way home. The little one yelled, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds!" Yep, these are totally our kind of girls. Pretty sure they learned that one thanks to our Beatles Rock Band contribution to last year's Christmas.
When we got home from the museum, it was straight to bed, after some quick finger puppet repairs.
6. Watercolor paper for snowflakes. The next morning I woke up with a little girl in my face, "Aunt Sara, when are we going to do our project?" I had promised the little one that I'd do a special project with her since the older two spent a lot of time with me learning to knit.
Quickly, before the parents had to load the three girls into the minivan for the next family gathering, I got out some big pieces of drawing paper and some watercolor paints. She worked her magic with water and paint, and then went home with a few sheets of lovely paper to make snowflakes from. The transition from harvest to winter was underway!
I have to say, even though it's not something you hear very often, that I love being a childless auntie. We should celebrate them more.