In the Summertime

For most people, the thought of California in the summertime conjures up images of sun, beaches, and babes. And so it does for me as well, ever since one of my sisters began taking her kids to California to see my parents for six weeks in the summer. Between her and my other sister, I am an aunt to five munchkins. Having grown up in California, I've never been a huge fan of the place, suffering from a mix of restlessness and the "grass-is-always-greener" syndrome. Nowadays, I look forward to returning to the place of my upbringing in order to see the munchkins.

I was in my early twenties when Estelle, my oldest niece was born almost twelve years ago. I remember how exciting it seemed that our family was going to have an infant in it. I remember playing with her when she was a smiley baby, already so beautiful and photogenic. Since then four more were born, and each with his and her own amazingly individual personalities, and each confirming my suspicions that children are pretty neat.

This summer three of them are old enough to enroll a month-long sailing course sponsored by the municipality of Long Beach. I watched Estelle and her younger brother Allen maneuver small, single-person boats by themselves. I even saw them flip over a few times, only to get back on and continue sailing. It was amazing to see children conduct themselves and their boats in such an independent manner; it seemed like just minutes ago they were babes in my arms.

Being an aunt who lives far away allows you the privilege of making your time with children an event. For the two girls, I applied facial masks and hair treatment to them in my parents whirlpool tub. We hung out in bathrobes and listened to jazz music as my mother brought us homemade mango smoothies. The girls, Betsy and Estelle, aged six and twelve, were thoroughly entertained and appreciative as if they were at a first-class spa. It amazed me that they could be so happy with so little.

Another perk of being an aunt is having the freedom to deliver my affection without the commitment and responsibility of a parent. Later in the week, I offered to take custody of all five children at my parents' house. I took them out to frozen yogurt and stuffed them with packages of gummy bears. I let them watch TV without end, knowing that I wasn't going to have to discipline these crabby, sleep-deprived kids the next day.

But after hours of inane Disney sitcoms, I took control of the mighty remote control and put on the discovery channel and the learning channel. We watched Cake Boss, the reality show about an old-school Italian baker in New Jersey who makes incredible sculpted cakes in each episode. We also watched a reality show about commercial swordfishing in Canadian waters.

More enthralling to me than the content of the shows were the reactions of my nieces and nephews, all of whom quickly became engrossed in these far away worlds where people were living their different lives working in these various trades. The children engaged in the stories and characters, and made commentary on these adventures we were watching, even moreso than they did for the Disney sitcoms. It was an adult world that interested them in a manner that most adults no longer can experience.

In my life there are times when I question the purpose and meaning of marriage. But since meeting these little people, to witness as a mother a child's fresh perspective towards life is an adventure that I hope someday to have. Eventually my nieces and nephews will become adults. I hope they read this blog entry then and learn that their development was an integral part of my own development in a positive and meaningful way.

For now, I look forward to my summers of California sun, beaches, and babes.


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