She doesn’t know it yet… I’m going to be her first confidante, her strongest ally, her biggest fan, and the one who takes her to cool rock concerts! When her mom is bugging her, she’ll vent to me. When her dad won’t let her go out with a boy, I’m the one she’ll send the “wtf” text to. I’ll take her shopping and out for lunch, and she’ll drink her first beer with moi.

But for now, she’s two. She lets me pick her up only when her mommy is not around. Which is hardly ever – first-time moms with only one kid don’t let the kid stray too far for too long! When we’re together, she only has eyes for my daughter, and sometimes for my sons. She wants to play with her cousins and chase the dog and draw pictures. And she prefers her Granny to me. For now.

G-d knows I’m not a toddler-whisperer anymore! Having had four of my own, I don’t really ‘do’ two- and three-year-olds these days. I will hold and snuggle a newborn baby (that smells good and has just been burped) for at least an hour – okay 45 minutes – with all the love and patience in the world! Or I’ll gossip about school and friends and irritating brothers with second grade girls at the kitchen table all afternoon.

But two-year-olds… not so much – even if they are related by blood, and have a cute fountain ponytail on the top of their heads. They have no attention span, they throw tantrums, they make a mess, they don’t kiss you when they’re supposed to, and worst of all they need snacks in little tupperwares – I loathe little tupperwares: the lids always go missing and they take up unnecessary room in the fridge.

My sister is an amazing aunt to all ages. She engages her nephews and niece in activities, conversation, fun no matter what. She bakes them cakes on their birthdays, and has instilled a love of art in at least two of them that they never would’ve received otherwise. I’m a reader, not a drawer. They do all love to read. My own aunts are pretty awesome too – one cooks all my favorite dishes whenever I come over, and she and I will share a love of the written word forever.

My mother’s sister is eight years younger than my mom, so she was cool before she even knew she was cool. Actually, she always knew she was cool. She took us shopping for writing paper in an off-beat store in Johannesburg just before the writing paper craze hit third grade. So cool. She showed us how to put on eyeliner – a skill she learnt from watching her sister, our mother, but it was way better when she did it. Friday nights were much more fun when she came over for Shabbat. She listened to me worry about my friends, delighted in my talk about crushes, nursed my broken 16-year-old heart. And she’s still cool. She’s like a mom, but she’s not my mom. She’s my friend-mom. My mom-friend.

Most days I feel like a shitty mom for one reason or another – too impatient, no milk in the fridge, signed the homework without really looking at it – but I’m not a shitty aunt. Oh, I know I’m not super-engaged with my niece right now but she always wants to go to “Nicki’s house.” She can already feel the lure, the promise of fun, the intoxicating appeal of rules bent for a little while. That’s my siren-call. And my rocks are padded. It’s enticing, but still safe.

I don’t have to tell her she can’t have ice cream before dinner. I’m not the one to drag her away from the TV. I don’t care if it’s her nap time now, so we can’t go to the park. We’re going! I have my own kids to create those boundaries for. She is my happy, jump-on-the-bed, no-rules-for-now kid. She’s mine, but she’s not mine.

stella

I don’t have the attention span right now to chase after a two-year-old, but when she throws her little arms around my neck for the briefest of hugs I feel the promise of the years to come. “Nicki,” she says, with a little smile on her lips. She’s precious in her not-mineness – she trusts me completely, knows I’m not her mommy but I sound like her mom, and for a moment she buries her face in my neck. I feel like hers, and she feels like mine.

I lift her up with her belly on my legs, and she holds her arms out for just a few seconds before grabbing my hands again… the two of us engaged in a perfect balancing act of laughter and boundless flight.