This past Monday evening the phone rang. Once, and then Mom plucked it from the receiver: the call we’d all been waiting for. She stood, listening intently, her cheeks lifted and eyes expectant with something that might have been excitement, or fear, or both. I knew her unspoken questions: Is Dora okay? the baby?
And then she was sinking into a kitchen chair, worry disappearing from the lines of her face, a smile flooding it.
“Donovan Jerrold,” she repeated, glowing, into the phone. “Did everything go well?”
And I am an aunt for the fifth time over.
Donovan Jerrold, when he grows older, will be a playmate for the two cousins near his age: Jaxson, who is a year old, sturdy-bodied and curious; and Morgan, who is five months, with stick-out ears and thinning hair and an exuberant smile. MacKenzie and Madison, who are eight and five, are delighted to have another little cousin to hold and coo over.
I enjoy being an aunt and watching these kids grow through the stages of childhood. To see a small limp personality sprout colors, to see it blend and broaden and interact and then to deepen into something distinct and multifarious and lovely: this is fascination.
Aunts can have fun with their nieces and nephew without any of the stress of parenting. They can teach their nieces important things, such as how to tell long sagas in the back of a car driving home; how to paddle a canoe; how to hold a daddy longlegs without being afraid. Although for all my efforts on that last one, MacKenzie and Madison are as terrified as ever.
MacKenzie was my first and only niece for a period of three years, and she received the brunt of all my auntish education. I used to scare that poor child every time she came over. MacKenzie always did scare easily, and every time I took her down the basement to look for bears or pretended to throw her from the top of the stairs, she screamed and clung to me as though she really believed it.
And probably she did. Children are susceptible, something easy for me to forget in casual, joking moments. The time I pretended I was going to throw her into the fire, she burst into terrified tears. I had thought she’d known I was teasing.
“Luci, I don’t like when you scare me,” she told me one day, very seriously. “Please don’t do it anymore.”
What could I say? This child, at a young age, knew how to express her thoughts and desires in a way I still cannot, though I have three times as many years of experience.
I never scared her again, except in small half-hearted attempts, at the times when she said, “Remember how you used to scare me, Luci? Can you scare me again?” I am her school teacher now, and she loves school with every bone in her body. It’s added a new dimension to our relationship.
After MacKenzie is Madison: sturdy, sweet, sensitive. When I returned from my summer in Canada, she told me, her childish voice expressive with sincerity, “I MISSED you.”
And then Jaxson, wide-eyed and observant and all boy. He holds a natural affinity for anything with a motor on it, making motor noises at sight of a car, sitting absorbed and quiet for lawnmower or tractor or pontoon rides. He came over the other day, and I laughed with my family as we watched him explore, the world new and untouched again as we saw it through his eyes, the simple act of opening and closing a drawer becoming a miracle of accomplishment and delight.
Morgan, though she can’t talk yet, holds entire conversations with her eyes and her smile. I think she will be a person with expressive body language, because when I talk to her, she waves her tiny arms wildly and bounces up and down in her mama’s lap like a kangaroo kit, every inch of her involved in the conversation.
I can’t wait to see how Donovan turns out.