wee bee knows there are a lot of “how-to’s” out there, but not nearly as many about being a successful superhero aunt as a father, mother, co-parent, grandparent, sibling, or single parent. it seems as though if you don’t have kids, have kids who have kids, or are a kid yourself, you don’t really need to know how to get along with the really tiny humans.
well world, fuck you.
wee bee has been an aunt for about eight years now. admittedly, she was terrified of this for a long time. to be an aunt while still in high school seemed unreal. to be an aunt while in her late teens and early twenties seemed terrifying. but as she got older, and the number of tiny humans calling her “aunty” kept on multiplying, wee bee realized she wanted to make the most of this. she may not have children of her own and besides, who doesn’t want to be “the cool aunt”? you know, the aunt that the parents fear visits from because she is a total disruption of the parenting routines and styles and diets? the aunt that the tiny humans fight over, wanting the most amount of time and shenanigans all to themselves? the aunt that is not only listened to as possessing some divine authority but then is loved and treated as one of the tiny humans themselves (just slightly – emphasis on slightly – bigger)?
thankfully, during this epic stage of wee bee’s life, wee bee has conquered her fears of the tiny humans and has become what she never thought she’d be: the cool aunt. in her first years of being an aunt, she was a stumbling fool, first afraid to hold the infants for fear of dropping them and then later, unsure of how to interact with these miniature persons at all besides forced expressions similar to those she’s seen of others dealing with tiny humans. she resigned herself to the status of “just aunt.” brother bee #2 was the cool uncle, and wee bee was the weird sibling of brother bee #1 that came along for holidays.
all of that is now in the past. wee bee no longer feels distressed or worried but sublimely grateful for her position. she is aunty to four tiny humans. that’s right, she has four nephews, ranging from ages 8 down to 2. three of her nephews are from brother bee #1 and the fourth is brother bee #2’s.
although wee bee and brother bee #2 have had some serious differences in the past, and she has ongoing struggles with his personhood to this day, it seems as though nephew #4 has been a bridge and, on top of it, a true starting point for her climbing status as the cool aunt.
you see, when brother bee #2 presented wee bee with yet another nephew, it wasn’t as if anything about wee bee’s fears or apprehensions had much changed since any of the last tiny humans were born into her family. the one thing that was different though was how brother bee #2 handled wee bee’s aunt status, and it made all the difference.
with her first three nephews, wee bee was not only like a fish out of water, but because of her sister-in-law and brother bee #1’s deferment to her authority, wee bee was made to feel that she in fact could not handle being an aunt whatsoever. the one singular time her sister-in-law allowed wee bee to look after her nephews alone was during a crisis whereby sister-in-law had to rush out, but of course, not before making sure wee bee knew full well sister-in-law felt wee bee was incapable of watching over the tiny humans and was merely a last resort.
brother bee 2 was completely opposite.
so brother bee 2 left wee bee with her youngest nephew from the outset and pretty quickly, wee bee realized babies weren’t so terrifying after all. she loved her time with baby nephew, and never felt like his parents were hawks waiting to descend on her for poor oversight of their child. if she didn’t know what to do, she googled. if google failed, she called or asked around. this made a huge difference, and by the time she were to see her trio batch of nephews from brother bee #1, wee bee felt pretty confident in telling her sis-in-law to just chill the fuck out.
in addition, because it was offered for only two dollars and wee bee has heard of this book so many times but never read it, she purchased and read the book “how to win friends and influence people” on her new kindle paperwhite. it was one of a few books she bought in preparation for the bee family vacation to disneyworld and associated awesomeness, and she had ample time to read it on her plane rides to orlando. wee bee isn’t much one for the “self-help” genre and doesn’t totally agree with everything in the book, and has some general qualms with things in the book, but nothing too severe. she felt it was a pretty good summary of being a good person and an effective tool for reminding yourself how to be one when maybe you start to slip up. so, since her oldest nephews are not only old enough to be extremely conversational but are also well beyond their years in many respects, wee bee decided to remind herself of the things she read in this book and test them out on her eldest nephews to see what happened. in fact, even just reminding herself of a few very basic things and using them with her nephews helped turn the family trip into a wonderful time of love and fun for wee bee and her nephews. here were some of the simple things she did differently:
usually, wee bee’s eldest nephew rambles and rambles about different topics which are of interest to him, and only occasionally looks up to check that you are listening, at which point everyone sort of nods and gives an “uh-huh” or other generic answer. so this time, wee bee really did want to know what he was rambling about. she hardly knows what to give her nephews as gifts because, well, she doesn’t get much time with them. so she allowed herself to realize she needed to treat them as she would a new friend, and not somebody she’s related to and therefore should already know. after all, what did her nephews know about her? relatively little. but by the end of the vacation, wee bee and her two eldest nephews knew much more about each other, surprising things and even some secrets.
instead of allowing the eldest of the nephews to ramble, unable to keep up, wee bee constantly asked questions and would even bend down or ask for clarification. if he continued to ramble, she would pick something within his zone of rambling, and ask him for the answer (“what is the scientific name given to the dodo bird?”). this would cause him to not only slow down and figure out the answer, but to feel excited that someone else wasn’t just nodding and otherwise not paying attention, which he is smart enough to understand.
now, nephews 1 & 2 are extremely different, which at first seemed to make things easy for wee bee, thinking they just had different needs from her as aunty, but she realized quickly they would become jealous of the type of attention the other got. for example, nephew #2 is extremely outgoing, rambunctious and affectionate. he won’t wait for you to offer your hand – he will offer his. he will ask to be picked up, to be cuddled, to lay his head on you or for help getting through a particularly difficult spot of a lazy river. this quality was extremely comforting to wee bee, who is not always the same. she is more like nephew #1 – head in the skies, talkative but intellectual, and affectionate but independent and would prefer not to initiate any type of hand-holding. he is also stubborn. so it came as a real shock when suddenly this nephew despaired that his younger brother was “hogging” aunt bee. and likewise his brother despaired that aunt bee may hold his hand and go on all the rides with him but she mostly gives her attention to his older brother.
for the simple reason that they were totally different tiny humans, wee bee hadn’t realized she needed to give them the same kinds and amount of attention, just in different ways. for her oldest nephew, she had to initiate affection – picking him up and snatching him for a ride; grabbing hold of his hand too as they were pummeled in the wave pool; grabbing him and twirling him good night before they went to bed and before he could protest. likewise, she had to initiate thoughtful dialogue with her second-eldest nephew, who it turned out had tons to say if only asked. so she carefully reminded herself every day that while her nephews were different, they needed the same things from her. and very quickly they would put her in the middle of them and she would have to tell them to let the other talk now or to have his turn and there was remarkably little fighting involved. they both knew it wasn’t a competition.
one of the things wee bee tried out, which is explained in detail in the book and is something she tries to keep in mind anyway but hadn’t thought too deeply about previously, was “sorry.” the effect that “sorry” had on her eldest nephews was instant and so profound, wee bee realized right then and there she needed to say it more often. it’s true that we take things for granted, whether it be the understanding of our faults by other people or the mere tolerance of them by children for the fact that we are older. but the impact of sincerely apologizing is so simple to do and has such an effect, it’s ridiculous we don’t do it more often.
wee bee, for example, is an extreme grump in early mornings when being woken up. she knows that everyone in her family knows this. but, after a few splendid days with her family on vacation, when her nephews tried in vain to wake her, with her eldest nephew telling his brother to just let her sleep and be quiet, and finally the second-eldest nephew getting it set in his mind to wake up his aunt bee, wee bee was extremely grouchy. later in the morning, as she was becoming more fully awake and normalized, reading on the back patio of the place where they were staying, her two oldest nephews came out to sit with her.
wee bee: hey, i want you to know that i’m sorry i was a real grump to you guys this morning.
nephew #2 (sharing a look of total shock with his older brother): are you for serious right now or are you just being sarcastic?
wee bee: no, i’m serious. i’m really grumpy in the mornings when i’m woken up and i’m sorry that i snapped at you. i’m thankful that you woke me up though so i didn’t miss time with everyone today.
the nephew bees exchanged flabbergasted looks and brimmed. wee bee was serious and they knew it, and wee bee isn’t sure if they had ever received an honest apology from an adult that they could remember. they clambered up with wee bee outside and talked a little more, wee bee explaining that she isn’t good with mornings to begin with and that there’s a time difference — the latter fact one that greatly intrigued her eldest nephew. he expressed a sincere gestalt moment at why wee bee always had such a hard time getting awake in the mornings when she came to visit them, understanding now that their mornings were the middle of her usual nights.
a sincere apology alone was enough to make her second nephew content and brimming, but the explanation of why she was apologizing and the culprit behind what she did were what really mattered to her eldest nephew. so wee bee learned to do both. likewise, going back to the issue of outward affection, wee bee learned that sometimes it was simply enough to ask or suggest to her eldest nephew that he, too, snuggle up with her and his younger brother. he didn’t always want to, but he always wanted to know that it was an option he was free to take or decline. and her second-eldest nephew wanted constant affection and cuddles, and sometimes wee bee needed to decline due to heat or other reasons, but her declining was never met with a tantrum or too low a head, so long as she expressed her sincerest apologies as to why she couldn’t, at that particular moment, reciprocate his desire for this or that.
wee bee has a great deal of respect for tiny humans now because previously, although she knew generally that they were tiny humans, she didn’t understand the extent to which they were really just tiny humans. she spent nearly the entire vacation learning from them, and was able to explain things or express things in ways they not only went along with, but truly appreciated and understood. when her eldest nephew refused to attempt drawing a shark after completing everything else on his kids menu, telling her that he simply couldn’t draw, wee bee explained that she couldn’t draw when she was his age either. this confused both of her nephews, since one of the few things they knew about her was that she draws and paints. so she explained how, when she was young and placed in second grade when actually in first, the second graders teased her and teased her about her stick figures. this piqued the interest of her second nephew, who wanted to know why anyone would tease his aunt bee and what she did about it, and it piqued the interest of her eldest nephew to know that she used to be terrible at drawing and wanted to know how she learned. so she explained that instead of getting upset about being teased — which didn’t make anything better — she realized that the second graders couldn’t tease her if she drew well.
nephew 1: but how did you learn to draw?
wee bee: i got books from the library, starting with cartoons, and taught myself. pa hat even took me around town to draw different buildings, or get old reels of the paintings of famous artists and we’d sit all day going through them and learning things.
nephew 2: so the other kids didn’t tease you anymore?
wee bee: well, they still teased me when they could, but it was mostly about being small and not about my drawing skills anymore.
nephew 2: did you get better than them at drawing?
wee bee: much better. i devoted a lot of my free time to drawing.
nephew 2 (getting excited): did you rub it in their faces like because they were wrong?
wee bee (laughing): no, they were completely right about my drawings at first. i was terrible. but when i got better, i just kept learning because i found i liked it. pretty soon they were asking me to help draw things for them, too.
nephew 1 (after spending a fair amount of time mulling this over in his head): you actually started to like drawing?
wee bee: i loved it; still do.
nephew 1 (asks a few more questions to figure out how wee bee learned to draw – the technicalities and process): i’m going to take drawing lessons soon actually from mr. [teacher]. i think i’d like to be better too.
there were many instances like this throughout the bee vacation, and wee bee is beyond thankful for them. for through her nephews she has learned many things she was uncertain she ever would. she learned how to think in terms of the tiny humans; how to respect them as not just tiny humans but as individuals. and most of all, how to wholeheartedly love and be loved by the newest generation of her family. wee bee’s nephews taught her how to properly be a buzzing, happy, and in-demand aunty bee. and for that, she is eternally grateful.