by Aurora Bordeaux
It’s not that I totally hate kids. I used to really love them. As a younger child, I was always that weirdo who liked babysitting and wanted to “hold the baby.”
I grew out of it.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to have any kids in my life, or that I’m not supportive of the people I know who have them. I like the auntie role, with its major perks and minor setbacks. As a well rounded, intelligent, emotionally healthy adult, I feel that I have a lot to offer on the auntie front.
But recently, my sister-in-law (SIL) more or less gave me the boot out of her small children’s lives, using a special brand of mother-speak to ask (nay, tell) me not to talk to her kids again.
My SIL’s children are 6 and 2, and to my knowledge, I have never done anything to them except shower them with thoughtful and not-cheap gifts, have them to stay overnight in my home even when they left it a wreck, and basically watch every word I said around them. I didn’t just jump through hoops to try to be a good aunt to these two—I leapt through a series of hoops on fire. For years.
But it’s not enough. It never will be. I’ve essentially been ushered out of the kids’ lives by the elbow, as if I had come to a wedding drunk, never to be forgiven for something that should never have been a crime at all. It all officially kicked off when I said the magic words: “I am not going to have kids.”
My sister-in-law is a churchy type, the all-American housewife who lives to breed. I used to admire and respect her, even though I always had a creeping sense that she didn’t care for me much. More hoop jumping was the cure, I reasoned, believing it all that was necessary to make her flip the switch and like me for real instead of just pretending to.
The signs of her distaste with my existence were subtle, but after I said I didn’t want kids, they became more obvious and I started suspecting that it wasn’t all in my head. She’d tense when I would mention that I love krav, or that I was considering a tattoo. I don’t drink much or do drugs of any kind, but the fact that I enjoy a glass of wine or cocktail now and then made her twitchy. In her politically correct eyes, I’m a tattoo laden (I never even got one), gun toting booze hound.
Her daughter is excessively dramatic, and her son is wildly energetic, two qualities she doesn’t share. When I last played with them, our game evolved into an epic soiree revolving around zombie deer and a monster teddy bear. The kids were directing the play, but I thought the grisly topics of their designs were fun and funny. I don’t think she did. She seemed to want to blame me for the qualities in her kids she didn’t care for, those that didn’t mimic her own.
She doesn’t want her kids to see or know the world, and even though I have a deeply religious background that she doesn’t have a clue about, she probably views me as “the world,” and therefore wants to shield her little perfects from me. She thinks I’m Satan, but one she technically has to tolerate.
At the last visit, she let her oober Christian façade slip for a fraction of a second and finally gave me the sweet peace of concrete proof that I wasn’t making it all up, dicing me up at the kitchen table with a direct, though muttered, comment. I won’t bother repeating it here, because it’s a long story. But the bottom line is that the real message was: “Don’t speak to my kids. Stay away from them. You are not welcome, nor wanted.”
I sat there and smiled politely until I couldn’t choke the tears back, then made a quiet retreat into the woods out back and called Mimo, my ancient grandmother, for reinforcement. Mimo was having a clear day and gave me a verbal chiropractic adjustment of the soul, helping me remember that the bitch didn’t matter. I don’t need her.
If I was a mom, I’d be tickled to have an aunt around who could balance out my parenting qualities with something a little more fun, who would embrace the role wholeheartedly and try her utmost to be a positive adult influence. But this woman doesn’t want anything other than herself and those identical to her in the kids’ lives. She definitely doesn’t want me.
It really hurt my feelings at first, but then I thought, why pine after people who don’t want you? It’s sad, yes, and rejection sucks. But screw it.
My bruised feelings were eased a by a recent visit from a firecracker aunt who never married, nor procreated. I have always liked her, but over a few glasses of fizzy beverage, I suddenly realized that we had a boatload in common. In confidence, she told me that she invited my husband and his siblings to her lake house every summer, but their mother consistently refused. The mother tried to keep the cool aunt away from her kids—here it comes—because she thought the aunt was a bad influence.
This, to me, is outrageous. The aunt is hilarious, fun, honest, and sharp. She has an amazing career and I think of her as a feminist trailblazer with unbelievable experiences to share. How could any mother not want a person like this around her children? Sure, she can be a little rough around the edges, but she has so, so, so much to offer. At least, I was pecking at her heels to take whatever she would give me. When she talked about being rejected as an aunt, her tough veneer broke just enough, and I saw genuine hurt in her eyes even though it happened so long ago.
It’s a hurt I understand well now, but honestly, just knowing that someone else that amazing has felt it as well sucked out a lot of the sting. If she got the boot as an auntie, too, then it turned out that I was in excellent company.
I think my SIL’s kids will miss out by being deprived of my auntie-ship; I know I would have a lot to offer them as they grew up, and heaven knows their vital sides need adults around who understand their natures on a more organic level. But if the mother wants to hang on her high horse and judge, that’s fine by me. I’ll live.
Because I know that I’m a good person, and I know that there’s nothing wrong with being childfree. Unlike her, I don’t require children to be happy. I’m Off Board, Baby.