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Growth Spurts: Being an Aunt

Growth Spurts: Being an Aunt

Once a year my extended family gets together for a week-long vacation together. There are nearly thirty of us, and more than half are “the kids,” ranging in age between one and twenty-two. It is always fascinating to watch them interact with each other, and it can be even more fascinating to watch the adults try to figure out how to interact with each of the kids, since so much time passes between our get-togethers.

It’s easier to jump right in with the kids who are now over eighteen, because, well, they are adults now. Conversations with them don’t take a lot of effort; they just flow naturally. Conversations with the four- and six-year-olds, however, usually require more energy, creativity, and sometimes silly faces. It’s harder work, but it is worth the investment. Then there’s the twenty-one-month-old, who isn’t exactly into conversation yet and who, incidentally, isn’t even sure who you are. With him, you just try to make pleasant eye contact as much as possible and only attempt simple dialogue while he is in the arms of one of his parents. Again, silly faces can help.

This year we had the joy of adding another member to the group–my eleven-year-old niece, whom my sister’s family recently adopted from Colombia! We were especially excited about meeting her, because two of my sons were also adopted from Colombia. We all wondered how she would feel about the somewhat chaotic gathering of extended family, especially because she had only been home for a short time and knew very little English. But she seemed to have an absolute blast, and she talked and laughed with everyone! I made a few feeble attempts at conversing with her in Spanish, and she was very patient and forgiving of my mistakes. We have all learned that much can be communicated even without spoken words.

I’ve found over the years that if I want to build relationships with these precious souls, I have to do the work of getting to know each of them individually and understand how they like (or don’t like) to relate to people. Some enjoy lots of conversation, while others enjoy more of a monologue style–in which case, I oblige them with lots of listening. Some don’t really enjoy talking but do enjoy playing a game together. Some enjoy doing a quiet activity, like coloring, side-by-side with just some occasional conversation. Some just want me to laugh at their jokes or answer their questions. Some are huggers; some are high-fivers; and some are please-don’t-touch-me. My favorite line at this year’s reunion came from my four-year-old niece, whose response to anyone asking for a hug was always a giggly “Tomorrow!” (Genius answer.) So the way to relate to this one is to giggle along with her “Tomorrow!” answer and turn it into a game.

All of it–conversing, listening, playing, making eye contact, giggling, or even attempting another language–helps build trust, memories, and a foundation for these relationships. It is definitely harder since we don’t see each other very often, but I never want to give up on knowing and relating to all my nieces and nephews in some way. These relationships are too important to neglect.

 

Carrie Bevell Partridge remembers the day her sister told her she was going to be an aunt for the first time, and she doesn’t take the role lightly.

About The Author

Carrie Partridge

Carrie Bevell Partridge grew up in Memphis, TN with her parents and four siblings. She attended Mississippi College, where she met her husband Kevin. They have been married for 20 years and have five children. They live in Ridgeland, MS. Carrie has written the “Growth Spurts” column and managed social media for Parents & Kids Magazine since 2011. You can read more of her work at carriebevellpartridge.com and Facebook.com/carriebevellpartridge.

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