My Aunt Ellen, my mother’s only sister, left this morning to return to Tennessee after a five day visit here with us. I’m always a little sad when she leaves – we all are – but also so grateful that she came in the first place.
I have no grandparents to offer my children; they will all always only have Heather’s mother, which guts me to my core sometimes a hundred times a day. (To be fair, they did know my father, but only a little, and he was kind of a mess with his ALS during the majority of the time they spent with him) The boys took to Aunt Ellen from the very first time they met her, on a fourth of July at her house out in the country where they were allowed to set things on fire and drink soda and generally rabble rouse for an entire day. Over the couple of years that our visits to Memphis primarily revolved around caring for my father during his illness, she was always especially mindful to spend fun time with the kids, taking them to do things when she could, and just being present with them. She has not spent as much time with them as their grandmother, but there are ways she already knows all of them better. She asks them questions, earnest questions that she really wants to know the answers to, and then she really, really, actually listens to them when they answer her.
They love her to pieces. Asa was so beside himself with enthusiasm that she was in our house that he could hardly stand to sleep. Evan sticks to her like a shadow. Isaac bends her ear until it might break with his self-involved teenager monologue. Oscar would go to her and let him rock him for hours when he was only 6 weeks old and hadn’t really let anyone other than a mom hold him for longer than a minute. She came to help me when Heather went back to work – well, the first weekend my sister was here, and the second weekend Heather’s mom was supposed to come, but she only ended up staying for one of the nights. Both of them – my sister and mother-in-law – left me feeling desperate and emotional in my postpartum state, certain that my baby was horribly difficult and that I was barely going to survive what was obviously colic. Aunt Ellen walked through the door, gasped as though he’d taken her breath away, and said, “He’s beeeeeeeeautyful!” for the first of a hundred times. She made me certain that he was perfect(ly normal), a tiny baby who needed his mommy constantly and was troubling in absolutely no way. She washed all of our dishes and clothes and made us meals, talked through my c-section trauma with me, and healed my heart as much as she could from the wound of not having my mother meet my babies. I boo hoo’d when she left. A lot.
This time I have things more “under control” if that’s a thing that things can be in a house/zoo full of children and animals. I’m further out from my postpartum hormones, but even more emotional about her relationship with my kids. She taught Evan to play backgammon and several types of Solitaire, and how to “do the bridge” when he shuffles cards. He’s sososo proud. I know with absolute certainty that years from now when Ellen is no longer with us, Evan will be telling his children that his Aunt Ellen taught him to do/play/know this as he is teaching them. Can you ask for anything better from the grandparent-like figures in your kids’ lives? I think no.
She tells them stories about their Nana they never met, and their mom when she was a sassy six-year-old. Last night I told Isaac that Ellen was the first person who ever let me drive on the highway, and that my mom was so mad when she saw me get out of driver’s side of her minivan. Ellen reported that she was also the first one who fed me solid foods, and the first one to get me to poop on a potty, and that my mom was mad about those things too. I can see her and my mom, pretend fighting about these things, loving each other like they did. Another amazing part of Ellen’s presence in my kids’ lives is that she is one of four, like they all are. When she was here for our baby shower, Asa was making it pretty clear that he was feeling threatened by the impending end of his “baby” role in our family. One night when she was tucking him in for bed she exclaimed that something had just occurred to her, that she is the third of four children and now Asa would be too! Oh, my heavens, he was just thrilled.
I sent my uncle a text message last time when she left, thanking him for letting us borrow his wife for a few days, and telling him it made me miss my mommy a little more and a little less all at the same time, if that makes sense. That’s pretty much where I’m hovering right now. I miss my mother so much it steals my air and burns my throat and stings my eyes. I’m endlessly grateful that Ellen loves my kids and makes time and space in her life to travel and be with them. I love her so much.