By Sorcha Blaine
The last 40 years have seen a lot of
inventions: color televisions, birth control
pills, microwave ovens, aunts and uncles.
It’s not that aunts and uncles didn’t
exist before 1960, but they had different
job descriptions then. They were mothers
and fathers, as well. They had their own
kids to look after and worry about and
take on vacations and spend money on.
Of course they cared about their nieces
and nephews but the relationship was
based on proximity rather than choice.
Now all that’s changed.
These days a lot of women (including me)
and men are opting not to have children.
We don’t feel we have the patience to
address the full-time needs of a cat much
less a child. Or perhaps we’re just lazy,
self-absorbed and want our sun-washed
decks to remain Fisher-Price-free. In
any case, we’ve got no kids.
But we’ve got a few extra hours a
And we’ve got a little bit of money.
And we’ve got a big selection of
And those relatives love it when we
take their kids out.
I love it, too.
I pick them up clean: freshly scrubbed,
hair combed, eager for a day with their
I bring them back a few hours later:
chocolate stains on their clothes, scratching
fresh mosquito bites, cranky from their
“Here you go,” I say, handing off my
nephew to my sister, “we had a great day!
Same time next week.” And I’m gone.
My sister has had the day to herself.
My nephew has gone someplace special.
And I get to be all glow-y and maternal
for a specific, limited period of time.
(I think I mentioned above about being
To quote Martha Stewart (not a
Boomer but she’s done a lot of outreach
work with Boomers): “It’s a good thing.”
And the very best part of this very
good thing is that as an aunt or an uncle,
we’re not limited by expectations of what
we can or should do with the kids.
Parents have to worry about maintaining
Grandparents can love unconditionally.
Child-free aunts and uncles, though
- and I mean those of us who came along
after 1960 - have the opportunity to define
ourselves and our relationship in a brand
new way. I prefer the “Auntie Mame”
model. I send them silk kimonos from
Chinatown for Christmas. I demonstrate
the art of walking barefoot on a public
sidewalk without stepping in anything nasty.
I argue with cabdrivers. I gossip about
celebrities. I purposefully aim to embrace
ideas and actions that they may not be
exposed to, otherwise. My hope is that it
will widen their circle of comfort about
themselves and others. It will appeal to
those parts within that don’t fit quite right
just yet - those same parts that may
worry their parents and which their
grandparents try to overlook.
Around me, no matter what, they’re
safe, they’re loved. But they’re also
damn well going to be entertained
because I don’t like to be bored, either.
And when I bring them back a few
hours later - chocolate stains on their
clothes, scratching fresh mosquito bites,
cranky from their sugar crash - they’re