All posts tagged Aunting

It’s at close to Leave It To Beaver as I/we get. My brother’s family visits my lake cottage every July 4th. He and his wife bring anywhere from three to five of their children and assorted playmates for a week’s worth of beach time bonding and blueberry pancake breakfasts. Friends from the city weave in an out of the activities adding another three to five to seven more people at the dinner table. Scattegories (a game where answers to categories have to begin with the same letter) teams challenge each other post-dinner for the most ridiculous answer. This year’s winners were all generated when we had to come up with answers that started with the letter “O”.
• Something found on a hike: Onions
• Items in a salad bar: Oysters
• Things at school: Obnoxious children.

My brother and my 10 and 12-year old nephews caught 14 Coho salmon from Lake Michigan this year. I threatened them with pizza for dinner if they weren’t successful – guess it worked. Husband grilled perfect salmon filets for four nights running with no complaints. It’s hard to believe that I rejected salmon the first time I ate it. But a salmon patty made from canned sock-eyed salmon is about as different from fresh caught lake salmon as a cocoa bean is from a chocolate truffle.

These lake vacations do and do not resemble the lake vacations my family took when we were children. We stayed in rented cottages where Mom had to pack sheets and towels for the week. Dad wore socks with his Bermudas shorts and Mom tried to stay out of the sun. The fish we caught were either returned to their lake home or begrudgingly eaten by all of us. Air conditioning was something we left behind.

Instead of Scattegories we put together puzzles (minus one or two missing pieces) over the course of the week, played endless rounds of Gin Rummy or Rummy 500, read books, and bathed in the lake after sweeping the beach of dead alewives.

I treasure this week with my brother, sister-in-law, cousins and niephews (my collective noun for nieces and nephews) because I feel I’m part of a happy family sitcom snapshot of Middle America – the laughing and fun part. And I’m exhausted by this week because I am not a mother or keeper of a large household outside of this week and I feel as if I’m part of a dysfunctional family sitcom snapshot of Middle America.

I don’t normally push two shopping carts through Costco for a week’s worth of provisions, and still need to go to the grocery store. It’s rare for me to run the washing machine every day or go through all my dishtowels in one meal. Cleaning the floors on my hands and knees? Unheard of unless the brownies/ice cream/syrup dessert mixes with the spilled lemonade. I do sweep on a regular basis. So it’s different for me to just stop and give in to an acceptable level of sand in the house. My hair hasn’t seen a blow dryer, or my eyelashes a mascara wand in seven days. I’m afraid no one noticed.

Over the July Fourth week I get as close to June Cleaver (without Wally and The Beaver to call me Mom or pearls around my neck) as I ever will. Making my house a place to gather and do and laugh and sometimes even learn something.

“Dark chocolate,” I announced as the answer my teammate and I had come up with for items found in a desert that being with a “D.” Guffaws, belly laughs, incredulous looks from the kids in the room.

“The category is desert not dessert,” my brother said.
“Oh no,” my teammate and I convulsed into laughter. “How did we read that wrong?”
“Because you didn’t have my fourth grade teacher,” my 18 year-old niece said, “She told us to remember that there are two S’s in dessert because you always want more.”

And just like in a modern day sitcom, it is the child who teaches the adult a thing or two.

Connecting Through Texting


I entered a new stage of aunting this Christmas. I moved from face-to-face to screen-to-screen interaction.

Before this Christmas I could count on unfettered play time with my youngest nephews, ages 9 and 11. As of December 25, 2011, I compete with the digital devices connected to their little heads by little white ear buds.

Before this Christmas Jack and Andy met me at the door with hugs and an invitation to play a board game.

Andy: “Want to play Monopoly?”

Jack: “Or Life?”

Then, after properties were bought or families and careers were made one of the boys would ask: “Can I play with your phone?”

“Sure,” I would reply, knowing that part of my coolness, if I had any at all, was tied to my willingness to hand over my phone. Access to Angry Birds for continued hugs at the door always sounded like a good deal to me.

The apps on my iPhone look like I have a split personality. The Boomer aged woman is evidenced by the Flashlight app used in dimly lit restaurants, the Evernote app for digital reminders and the Tip and Split app for easy dinner bill reconciliation when out with friends. The Crash4Cash, Fast & Furious, Talking Carl, Crazy Candle, Zippo Lighter, Smack Talk and Doodle Jump apps strongly suggest I have a little boy hidden inside. But I don’t have a split personality. I just have nephews.

Things started to change in 2010 when the nephews’ mother received an iPad for Christmas. Mom’s gift quickly became family property and access to my iPhone lost some of its novelty and most of its cache. When one of the boys was flinging angry birds at helmeted pigs it meant the other was crashing cars on my phone and both boys were lost to me for as long as they could borrow someone’s device.

Then this year, Christmas 2011, both Jack and Andy received anytime access to the world of games and music on individual iPod touches. Quicker than one could say, “Can I buy this song?” they downloaded apps and retreated into earphone isolation only returning to the family fold when tapped on the shoulder by an older relative.

Dad: “Jack, turn down the volume. If I can hear it it’s too loud.”

Mom: “Andy. Andy. Andy. Come to the table and eat now.
Aunt Julie: “Want to put together your LEGO set?” They had received a LEGO Architecture kit of the Frank Lloyd Wright Fallingwater house. Both my husband and I really wanted to start building it.

Jack: “Not now, I just want to listen to some music.”

Andy: “Maybe in a minute.”

They didn’t need an aunt to help them enjoy their favorite Christmas gifts this year. They didn’t need me to insert batteries, assemble racetracks or conduct science projects. Building blocks? They could wait.

I taught them how to play Angry Birds on their mom’s iPad so I shouldn’t have been upset that they had moved on to being a Fruit Ninja on their own devices. But I was – a bit – because a bit of innocence and togetherness had been put aside for the next shiny object.

And then a new connection developed. A text connect.

December 25, 2011, 10:20 – 10:30 PM. Andy was at his house and my husband and I were at another brother’s home, where we were spending the night.

Andy: “Did you go to Dick and Deans”

Julie: “Yes, you were opening presents with your grandparents and cousins. See you tomorrow for more fun playing with your gifts.”

Andy: “We can build the falling water”

Julie: “Yes, and maybe a movie.”

Andy: “Totally”

Julie: “So we should all go to sleep now! Super body crusher hug goodnight!”

December 26, 2011, 10:41AM. I text Andy before coming over to his house.

Julie: “We’ll be over soon.

Andy: “Got it”

Julie: “Still want to build Lego/go to movie?”

Andy: “Yeah!” (Self-taken photo attached to text)

Julie: “Great picture!”

11:04 AM

Andy: “When are u guys coming over, watch time”

Julie: “Be there by noon.”

9:54 PM – 10:21 PM. That evening, my husband and I are driving through Indiana to Chicago.

Andy: “Hi Julie how is the trip going”

Julie: “Great. Almost home. How was family movie night?”

Andy: “It was really good but sadly we didn’t use the new popcorn maker”

Julie: “Next time. Is the Lego house still together?”

December 27, 2011, 10:23 AM. The following day I’m in Chicago and Andy in Ohio.

Andy: “Yes, the Lego house is still together but not for long.”

Julie: “Well it has to go sometime. Paul sure had fun with your gift!”

Andy: “Did he?”

Julie: “Yes. Hope it was okay he put the house together.”

Andy: “It was fine”

Julie: “How do you feel today?”

12:21 PM

Andy: “Better I’m going to a movie with my friend Mason”

Julie: “Which movie?”

3:56 PM

Andy: “Sherlock Holmes 2”

6:02 PM

Julie: “Was it good?”

Andy: “Yea”

Andy and I don’t talk much between visits. He doesn’t really like the phone. When his Mom makes him say hi when I call our conversations are short. His text messages were short too but he initiated them. And kept them going.

I’m not sure how long our text relationship will last but if this new screen in his life brings him a little bit closer to me when we are apart I think I can handle it taking him away from me a bit when we are together.


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