Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Auntie matters

We spent the long weekend with my brother's family. He and his wife have added to my mother's collection of grandsons with an absolutely adorable 8 month old named Noah.

On Saturday afternoon while Simon was napping, Tristan and I made our way over to my mother's house for a visit, and I finally had a chance to play with Noah for a while. (Before that, if Simon caught sight of me with Noah in my arms, he'd break into instant and heart-rendering sobs. Cast another vote in the 'con' column of the great third-baby debate.)

My mom was holding Noah when we got there, and as she handed him to me she said, "Go see your Auntie Danielle." It rang in my ears for a minute, and I've been thinking about it ever since.

For one thing, although I'm "Auntie Dani" to a posse of kids, nobody has ever called me "Auntie Danielle" before. People have been calling me Dani since I was in grade school, and it's the only name most of my friends and family use. The only hold outs are my mother, and up until recently, people I work with.

These days even my work friends are starting to call me Dani and while I enjoy the affection with which it is used, there's a part of me that's beginning to miss my formal name. I'm grateful that my mother still calls me Danielle. Sometimes I wonder if there will be a time in my life when Dani becomes too young a name for a woman of a certain age and I'll have to pack it away with my mini-skirts and neon t-shirts. Not today, at least.

But as if that weren't introspection enough from two simple words, "Auntie Danielle", there's more.

I come from a very small family. I have one brother. My father was an only child, and my mother had one sister. My one aunt and uncle had a son, so I have one cousin, but they lived on the west coast for a lot of my childhood. So I wonder if it's being from a small family that makes me weird about who my kids call aunt and uncle. To me, it's a title imbued with significance, and only actual blood relatives are called Aunt and Uncle.

Friends of mine had their son quite a few years before Beloved and I were ready to procreate, and although they were more like family than friends, I was still surprised when they handed the baby to me and introduced me as "Auntie Dani". I was genuinely touched - but also uncomfortable. I was proud that they loved me enough to include me as part of their family, but knew in my heart that I would feel uncomfortable extending the same courtesy on a future day when I had kids.

With the grace of a herd of startled cattle, I tried to explain my feelings to them at the time, and succeeded only in sullying a lovely gesture of friendship. We haven't really spoken about it since, and to their credit, their kids still call Beloved and I aunt and uncle to this day. But my kids don't reciprocate. I pretty much try to avoid using names at all when talking about them to my kids, referring instead to "so and so's daddy" or "so and so's mommy". When I can't get around it, I use their first names - and each time, I flinch a little bit at the absence of the "aunt" or "uncle".

Recently, another close set of friends brought a beautiful baby girl into our lives, and they have honoured Beloved and I by bestowing us with the title of Aunt and Uncle as well, and once again, I just can't bring myself to return the courtesy.

Now that I think of it, I was never able to call any of my in-laws "mom" or "dad" either, nor would I expect Beloved to call my parents that, even though we're as close as family can be.

Insignificant though it may seem (when will I be able to think a thought without an echo in my head that asks, "Given everything that's going on in the world right now, you're worried about that?), it's been weighing heavily on me lately. I am honoured and touched that our friends think enough of Beloved and I to include us as family, and I'm not quite sure how to demonstrate that we feel the same way - but we just don't want to commit to it with labels.

What's it like in your family? Do your kids call your friends Mr and Mrs Friend, or Auntie and Uncle Friend, or something else?