Aunt Sissy

Yesterday it was my niece’s day for a “birthday day”. A birthday day is a day that I dedicate to a niece or nephew, to spend with them alone, to spoil them a little bit (Ok, a lot, mostly in the junk food department) in place of a birthday gift. It’s a great idea, isn’t it? I can’t take credit for it, it was my sister Natasha who one year, when I asked what I should get for one of the kids for their birthday said, “I think what they’d really like is to spend time with you.” And so, the “birthday day” was born.

The birthday day is never at any time around the actual birthday. In fact, it has proven rather challenging to find six whole days a year to dedicate to birthday time. It was always my goal to try and get the birthday day done before the next birthday, and I was always hitting that goal except for last year I had to plan a wedding and there went every last bit of my free time for a good six months, and so birthdays started to get lapped and I got so far behind that I knew I would never catch up. So now, it’s a steady rotation, whenever I have a free weekend day, in order of birthdays.

My nieces and nephews all call me Aunt Sissy, or Sissy. My name is Nichole, but to my family I was always Sis, from the age of two when my little sister Natasha was born. (This was sometimes very hilarious to my friends when they would visit and hear people call me Sis) When my sisters started having kids, it did not seem right to revert back to Nichole and so I became Aunt Sissy. (And anyway, have you ever heard a baby or toddler try to say Nichole?) I love being Aunt Sissy. I always volunteered to carry the babies and toddlers, a job no one else wanted, while we hiked on our annual Michigan trip each year. Every niece and nephew had their turn on my shoulders, and some of my favorite Michigan memories are rocking babies to sleep on my lap at all the beautiful beaches we visit.

My nephew said to his mom a couple of years ago, “I like Sissy, she’s always smiling, she’s always happy to see me.” I do love my nieces and nephews, and I AM always happy to see them.

Yesterday I spent the day at a water park with my youngest niece, Naomi. Naomi is a little miracle, having been born after months of in utero blood transfusions every nine days. She was born early, on Christmas Eve, a perfect, tiny, little bundle. We had a great time. She started out kind of quiet, but after a car ride to the community center I had her talking. As we floated in the lazy river at the water park she was like,

“DidyouknowIhavealotoffriends?Guesshowmany?Wrong!Likeeight!JordanSamEmilyLauraMarcusEmmaJoshuaandHaley.HaleyismyBFF,doyouknowwhatBFFmeans?IwasgoingtohaveasleepoverwithHaleythisweekendbutthenshewasbusyandyoucalledforabirthdaydayandsoitworkedoutandguesswhoIwouldratherspendtimewithmore?Wrong!You!”

The birthday before that was with my nephew Elliot, who is six. We also went swimming but he let me off the hook on the water slide, perfectly content with me watching him and cheering him on. Elliot is a super smart kid, just like his mom, and therefore he remembers everything and asks a lot of questions. He also quotes various learning programs with random statements like, “Woodticks are arachnids,” and “Spider crabs live deep, deep in the sea.”   He got a chess game for his sixth birthday because he already plays it on his kid version of a tablet.

My other nephews, Logan and Weston, who are cousins, have elected to do their birthday days together, which is nice because it’s one less day for me to have to find- two for one! Last time I had a birthday with them we went to the lake, something they wanted to do. The time before that we went to Valley Fair, a local amusement park. I left with a headache from so many rollercoasters and Weston and I both sat out the last ride, determining our stomachs could not take it. Logan is fifteen this year and Weston is eleven. They are pretty easy to please when it comes to birthday days. A sleepover with all you can eat pancakes is sufficient for them.

Last birthday day with my niece Chloe, soon to be sixteen, we stopped for a manicure for her, and then drove to the North Shore of Lake Superior (about three hours away) and hiked Gooseberry Falls state park. The sun went down while we were in the park and we had to find our way back by the light of my cell flashlight and her ipod flashlight, with me saying things like, “Don’t tell your mom we got stuck in the dark in the state park.” (It was an adventure!) Chloe has always been so sweet and polite, she was never a fit thrower or a screamer kid, but she is a teenager and I am starting to wonder if at some point she’s going to no longer want to give up a day with her boyfriend for a day with her aunt. I’m thinking maybe facials and massages for the next birthday day. (Perhaps bribery will get me everywhere!)

Evelyn, who is now thirteen, is Chloe’s little sister. Last time we had a birthday day we went to the Mall of America and spent most of our time there at the amusement park. Long after I already made plans for this birthday day, I hurt my back. On every ride I had to brace my legs as hard as I could against the front and try to hold my back still because it hurt so badly- but I survived and Evelyn had a great time, doing exactly what she wanted, and that was what was most important.

Yesterday, when I picked Naomi up from her house to set out on “Naomi Day”, her cousin Elliot was there.

“When is it going to be my birthday day?” he asked.

“You just had yours before Naomi, you have to wait for four more birthday days before its yours again.”

“Well, do Chloe’s next weekend,” he said. Chloe is the next one in order.

“I can’t, El,” I began, “I have plans the next three weekends after this one.”

He scowled a little bit but didn’t say anything.

“It’s hard when you get to see someone else leave for their birthday day, knowing the world is their oyster for the day,” my sister said.

This is the same sister who was captured in a picture years ago, on my birthday, pouting in the sidelines because like she said, it’s hard when it’s not your birthday. For us, Gram always had us over to make our birthday cakes with her each year, and the birthday girl got to pick the colors and make the stems for the roses and make the border around the plate. And of course, the birthday girl always got the piece of cake with the most flowers.

Last time I had Elliot for his birthday day he said,

“We hardly ever get to see you, Sissy. Just for birthdays and holidays and Michigan vacation and our birthday days.”

This actually works out to be A LOT of days in the grand scheme of a whole year but my other sisters do tend to get together more often than I do. I work a lot of hours, and sometimes weekends, and I have grown kids and a lake I like to spend time with and also, I am a newlywed! (I can still say that, right?) Nevertheless, I felt guilty about that, and decided I better try to step up the birthday days.

Because they are only going to really want to spend time with their Aunt Sissy for so long, and then they’re going to get jobs and boyfriends and girlfriends and cars, and all I’ll have left are the memories of all the days I spent with them, celebrating each and every one of them, and letting them know how much I love them, and love being Aunt Sissy.

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