“You’re the best cousin ever,” my young niece announced during one of my trips home to Texas.
“I’m your aunt, not your cousin,” I corrected, trying to keep my smugness in check. “But go on. Why?”
“Because you’re always buying us so much stuff.” Oh.
It’s true: My suitcase is always heaving with treats from my travels abroad, and I’m a sucker on Target shopping trips. Also, one of my greatest joys is taking my niece and nephew on movie dates to the Alamo Drafthouse, where I let them order as much root beer and cheese pizza as they like. When the new Cinderella came out, I sent Sloane a princess dress and a formal invitation to a ball. Then, I flew in from London for a surprise visit, plonked a tiara on my head and played the part of fairy godmother as we watched the film, rode in a carriage and made princess crafts. I’m a seriously cool aunt.
Since I live abroad, I can’t be the aunt who comes to every soccer game and dance recital. But thanks to my career as an entertainment journalist, I can be the aunt who goes to Harry Potter fan conventions — who interviews Wonder Woman, Mary Poppins, Olaf and Newt Scamander, and who writes the kids into children’s stories to boot.
Is it guilt or showmanship that compelled me to pose in front of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey with my nephew’s Flat Stanley school project dangling from one hand? Probably both. Am I shamelessly trying to curry favor by agreeing to have my face painted like Hello Kitty or letting a grade-schooler give me the most Jackson Pollack of manicures? Absolutely. Do I enjoy watching my niece occasionally torment her mother, aka the person who used my arm as a chew toy and stole my clothes when we were growing up? Sometimes.
Being an aunt — cool or otherwise — has been the greatest pleasure of my life. But I’m now at the age at which I must determine whether I too want to be somebody’s (biological) mother. The answer is yes; I would love to have children of my own. My concern is this: Am I better aunt material than mom material?
Being an independent single woman with a fair amount of disposable income and a well-worn passport has arguably made me a fun aunt. But if a baby enters the picture, those “fun” things fall away. I’ll be a single mother with no disposable income, and I doubt I’ll be hopping on a last-minute budget flight to Rome or Amsterdam with a kid in tow. It will be stressful, and nobody else will be around to handle the homework and time-outs and 3 a.m. feedings and explosive diapers. It won’t be round-the-clock dance parties and movie dates and presents. It’ll mean trading that sweet Uncle Jesse life for buzzkill Danny Tanner responsibility.
The truth is, I like my space. A lot. I’m an introvert with bursts of social activity, which often translates to inviting people over, and then resenting them for accepting. After just a few hours of company, I begin to feel physically drained; the higher-maintenance a guest is, the more impatient and irritated I become. I once agreed to live with a boyfriend on the condition that we kept separate bedrooms.
There’s a precedent for this type of character in my family, too: my own cool aunt. I see her as more than a relative; she’s a mentor. She’s driven, independent and blisteringly brilliant. She’s never had her own children, but she’s played a crucial part in shaping the lives of seven devoted nieces and nephews. She was the first person to take me to New York City. She arranged my first internship. She convinced my father to let me study abroad in England, which is why I now live there. During her last visit, she invited me to join her on a trip to India. My cousin calls her Auntie Mame.
Looking at her, I know that if my lot in life is to simply be the aunt to my niece and nephew that my cool aunt has been to us, I’ll be lucky. Or maybe I’ll end up a mom after all — maybe one who is too sleep-deprived, snippy and stressed to be fun and extra all the time. And that would be OK too.
I don’t have to be a cool mom as long as I’m a loving one. Just please, oh, please, let me be one epic grandma.