About three years ago, I became an aunt. At the same time, my family was struggling financially, I just finished college, the nascent era of #BlackLivesMatter activism was about to take the nation by storm, and I launched my writing career by publishing a personal essay about my experiences with racism in America on a national platform. Suffice it to say, I was completely overwhelmed, angry and scared. In the midst of trying to come to terms not only with my Black womanhood and adulthood, all of a sudden this new fragile life seemingly fell from the sky to completely turn my world upside down.
I just couldn’t understand why my sister, then 29-years-old, decided to further strain our financial and social circumstances by having a baby. I reminded her about the struggles we endured being raised by a single parent who had no help from extended family. The moves from state-to-state in search of affordable housing and good schools. The two or three jobs my mother sometimes worked to feed us. The lack of stability.
And then my nephew was born and all of my fears dissipated. Instead of being a strain on my family, as I once thought he would’ve been, my nephew became the super glue that kept us strongly held together. He melded the cracks and breaks and gave us a reason to unite in love, laughter and hope. His birth also eased my transition into adulthood. A Black adulthood riddled with all the paraphernalia of struggle: uncertainty, money issues, the mental fatigue of confronting racism every single day, and the constant fight for survival. In many ways, the birth of my nephew was an absolute blessing. And, most importantly, it taught me these 8 Life Lessons I Learned From Becoming An Aunt.
1. Circumstances don’t have to be perfect for life to be absolutely magical. A big marker in the transition from adolescence to adulthood is finally accepting the difference between expectations vs reality. The expectation that we should somehow create perfection is always at odds with the reality that we simply cannot and for many, this can be a hard pill to swallow. Luckily for me, my nephew came into my when everything was far from perfect. Yet, his presence has been nothing short of magical. He helped me to quickly understand that there is beauty in life’s imperfect moments and circumstances.
2. Kids teach you to appreciate the simple things often taken for granted. Scientists agree that being grateful and giving thanks can increase our happiness. What’s the easiest way to appreciate the things we take for granted on a daily basis? Spend a day with a child! Afterwards, a nap without interruption will feel like Nirvana. Privacy while using the toilet will feel like a privilege. A meal without interruption becomes a regal feast. And not to mention, in every single moment you spend with a child, their innocent intrigue with the world reminds you to simply stop and smell the flowers or appreciate the color-changing fall leaves once in a while.
3. The next generation reminds us that things do get better and small steps do count. I am always amazed by the love and adoration that surrounds my nephew, because I never really had that growing up as a child. Though I had an amazing, hard-working mother, I didn’t have the loving, helpful grandmas or aunts, uncles and cousins. I didn’t have the support network that told me “you can do anything!” and sought to prove that claim. My nephew has that and so much more, which is proof that things are getting better with every small step. Heck, he will even have a savings account for college– something I certainly only dreamed about. Black folk may be struggling, but things will and do get better every generation.
4. There is beauty in serving and being needed. For me as a Black woman, there was no sentiment more off-putting than the idea that I was born “to serve”. The idea was weaponized against women so tactfully– by men, churches and dogma– that it was easy for any women to want to reject the premise wholesale. I most certainly did. Until my nephew screamed “AUNNTTYY TIIIBBBBYY!!” and cried because he could not get down the stairs without my help. It was in that moment, after my nephew climbed onto my back and and gratefully exclaimed, “Thanks Aunty Tibby!” as I carried him down the stairs on my back, that I was forced to recognize that serving is blissfully fulfilling.
5. Love is unconditional, even though other feelings come and go. Sometimes little humans are the most annoying little brats out there that make you just want to explode with anger. Particularly after you get a toy to the head in the middle of the best sleep ever, or they throw themselves on the mall floor while having a temper tantrum, or they draw all over the walls and doors with crayons. It’s so strange to vacillate so quickly between anger, annoyance and absolute adoration, but that’s exactly what happens when a child becomes a part of your life! So many feelings can come and go, but the one that always remains is pure unconditional love. The kind of love that teaches you what true love means and feels like.
6. The birth of children reminds us the universe is bigger than ourselves. There is nothing more beautiful than facing the reality that we all started out as these two single-celled organisms that collided, fused together, and multiplied in a woman’s body. The birth of a new baby reminds us of this; that the universe is bigger, more complex and beautiful than our narrow everyday experiences.
7. Laugh loud and cry hard: Don’t bottle it up. In time, many of us lose our ability to express our full range of emotions. We are told by society that crying means we are weak. That laughing too loudly is “unlady-like”. That the expression of our anger makes us a stereotype. There is nothing further from the truth and being around my nephew has taught me that each and every time he cries because he needs something or is frustrated, heartily laughs at something he finds funny and yells whenever he is angry. The truth is, expressing our full range of emotions is just simply being human.
8. We outgrow the “material” very quickly. Ever been clothes or shoes shopping for kids? It feels so impractical when they grow right out of that outfit you spent a bunch of money on in only a few weeks. Physically, mentally and emotionally kids are always growing and changing every single day. So the things that we buy them constantly change as well. This is no different from adulthood. Growth never ends. We are always physically, spiritually, intellectually and emotionally expanding, so we cannot define ourselves or the children in our lives by the things we buy. We all outgrow the material.