Thursday, December 29, 2011

Aunthood

Grade three (1993-1994) was a very busy year for me.

First I became an aunt. Then I got a little sister.

All this before I turned nine years old.

As you can imagine, it was a very difficult year for my family—what with my mother and teenage sister expecting at the same time.

I don't remember much about my sister's baby. I know she went to live in a group home for unwed mothers because I think I remember visiting her there a few times. I think I even remember going to visit her at the hospital, though I never saw the baby. The baby was given up for adoption, which I'm sure was very hard on my sister, and we were told not to talk about it with others.

I was an aunt in theory but not in practice.

My little sister was born on April 7, 1994. My dad checked us out of school to go visit my mom and my sister at the hospital. I had always wanted a little sister and now I finally had one. And she was beautiful...and just a little bit squishy and weird-looking, like most newborns are.

I don't remember when my older sister disappeared again. She had been popping in and out of my life for a few years and, by the time I was nine, she was gone again.
This time we at least knew where she was (which was a huge bonus because not knowing where someone is can be very stressful)—she went to live with my grandparents in the States. I think a lot of things were too painful for her to deal with—not the least of which was the fact that there was (or would soon be) a new baby in the house that wasn't hers—and it was decided that it would be best for her to leave her current environment and have a fresh start.

I don't recall knowing about this until the day that she left.

My sister sat at the top of the stairs, kneading Silly Putty in her hands and crying. I wanted to touch the Silly Putty because we had never actually been allowed to have any so I had never felt it before. My parents said she needed it because she was stressed out by her upcoming trip to our grandparents' house.

We probably talked about it before but children can be so oblivious. I wasn't terribly upset by her leaving. By this time, I was used to it.

My sister came back a few times but only ever for a few months at a time. Once when we lived in Calgary. Twice when we lived in High River.

I don't remember why she came back those times.

I do remember that when I was in grade six (1996-1997) my sister announced she was going to have another baby. I don't know how she announced to my parents but my parents were the ones to break the news to us kids. My sister was, yet again, an unwed, teenage mother, but this time she decided to keep the baby. She came to live with us while she was pregnant—for a few months—but ultimately moved back to the States to have the baby. She probably called to announce the birth but I don't remember talking on the phone with her. Instead I think that my parents told me about it. Later she sent us a letter with some hospital pictures of her new baby.

I didn't see my niece until the summer after she was born when I went down to the States and stayed with my sister for a couple of weeks.

Later—or maybe before then—my sister and my niece came up and lived with us for a few months—my niece was blessed in Canada. But eventually my sister returned to the States to marry my niece's father. My family was not there for the wedding. My sister and her husband had two more children right off the bat. Both times I believe it was my parents who told me after my sister told them. I was present for the birth of Matthew, my first nephew, and even suggested his name (which is my favourite boy name...ooops). His birthday is today (Happy Birthday, Matthew!) so we had Christmas break and it was a good time to drive down to the States for a visit. Andrew was born a year later and we weren't there for his birth, though we did drive down to the States for his blessing, which was around Easter (so we were on Easter break).

Meanwhile, my second sister got married and started having children, too, after our family had another unwed-teenage pregnancy scare (my sister got married while pregnant but lost the babies—twins—a while later and didn't have a live birth for quite some time after that). Deklan was born the November (when Matthew was just about 11 months old and when my other sister was still pregnant with Andrew). I frankly don't remember how or when she told us she was expecting. I'm not sure that's the important part.

By the time I started having children, though, I had eight nieces and nephews (not counting the niece I've never met) and had been an aunt the better part of my life.

Aunthood was a part of my childhood.

It was (and is) even more a part of childhood for my little sister who became an aunt when she was two-years-old. Or, if we're going to get technical, before she was even born.

My youngest sister is Facebook friends with my oldest sister's first baby—the one that was adopted by another loving family. They're months apart in age. They're both in their final year of high school.

But my niece has a little baby of her own.

I'm a great-aunt.

And I'm only twenty-six years old.

The reason I'm sharing this is because we inadvertently opened Pandora's Box of familial discord when we announced our latest pregnancy. Some family members felt we did so in a manner that was informal and inconsiderate. They had unspoken—and thus unmeetable—expectations of how such a delicate and sensitive topic should be handled and they chose to get offended when we failed to meet said unspoken expectations.

Rachel is the first grandchild on Andrew's side of the family. She's four-years-old. I think aunt/uncle-hood is still somewhat of a novelty for his siblings.

Rachel is the ninth grandchild on my family's side. My niece Rosie is fifteen-years-old. My niece Amy (the one with the baby) is seventeen-years-old, which happens to be the same age as my little sister. To me aunthood is not a novelty at all.

I can totally see how I might not be the best person to handle things for someone for whom it is a novelty. I was always "just a kid" and never got a personalized announcement. Ever. Not even when I was twenty and my sister fell pregnant with twins—she told my mom and my mom told "the kids," including my 22-year-old brother and me. I have never had any expectation of being personally alerted to my siblings' pregnancies. I didn't even know such an expectation even existed.

Now that I've been clued in to such an expectation it will certainly be easy to meet in the future but I'm not sure how I feel about meeting it. I'm not sure I like the idea of having outside expectations govern the way my husband and I choose to run our family.

Like I said, Pandora's Box.

We've talked about it and have, relatively speaking, smoothed things over and came to the conclusion that we all need to "try harder." But I'm still a little upset by their reaction. The offended party overreacted because there were other underlying issues that made them more sensitive than they would have felt otherwise.

And now I'm overreacting because I'm pregnant and hormonal and because this is the third pregnancy we've announced and the third time we've been recipients of angry missives regarding our announcements from people who I feel should have been loving and supportive to us and excited for us.

Yup, that was me expressing an unspoken expectation. We all have them.

On an unrelated note, I hate offending people. It makes life awkward.

10 comments:

  1. I love you Nancy and I thought your method of sharing was awesome.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I didn't know you had older sisters. And wow, that is awkward. You should be able to announce these things at your leisure... Guess what, I'm pregnant too! I was just excited this time that people didn't have to know right off the bat because I wasn't confined to the couch! Hooray! I think we're due around the same time, actually :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. *Like* Really, I do.

    Individuals have different reasons and backgrounds which influence the way they do what they do. And, I'm kind of sad that you even have to explain yourself. But, it did make for a very interesting read.

    PS-I don't like offending people either.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow Nancy, that's quite the back story. My family is somewhat similar. The baby that would have been my grandmother's first grand baby was placed for adoption. Then, her first great-grandbaby was conceived by a teenage grand daughter (my youngest sister), who married the baby's daddy, then miscarried the baby at 20 weeks and later endured a year of terrible abuse by the guy. A few months later, another young, unmarried, grand daughter (my cousin) got pregnant too. All the while I had been married for 3 years and couldn't get pregnant. My husband and I ended up adopting my cousin's baby and also having our own baby too just 4 months later. I have another cousin who has been divorced twice and now has a baby with her common law "husband". So, there have been a lot of babies in my family. I only have to generally announce pregnancies to a few people and then the word flies as fast as lightning and no one cares how I announce it or who heard it first. I'm pregnant for the 4th time (so it's our 5th child) and I didn't tell anyone for a long time because I didn't want to deal with the "is this your last one" and other similar comments AND because my brother's wife had recently miscarried.
    Anyway, my husband's family is very different, even though there are 19 grand children, they still expect formal and personal announcements every time...but no one told me. They have a lot of unspoken expectations as well and being married to the youngest child and being a daughter-in-law has made it difficult to keep up with all those expectations sometimes because they're usually something that the wife is supposed to do. But, I think if it's his family then he should be the responsible one.

    Next, if you didn't intend to offend someone, then you should really say "I hate it when people take offense when none was intended". You had no intention of hurting people's feelings. They CHOSE to be offended by your actions or inactions.

    Besides, I say, YOU are the one who is pregnant, and you and Andrew are the parents. You should be the ones who dictate how, when, and what info is shared concerning your pregnancy (and family life in general). I understand that a new baby becomes part of the extended family too, but it seems strange that of all aspects of our lives, it seems like pregnancy is a time when extended family think they have a special right to dictate their opinions on the management of said pregnancy.
    For example: with my first baby, my mom insisted that we NOT tell her the gender of the baby when we found out at 20 weeks because she wanted to be surprised when the baby was born. It was ridiculous to have to hide that information from her. After a few weeks, someone else slipped, and after that I told her it was my decision whether people knew the gender early or not, and whether I shared that info or not. And, that I wasn't going to try to hide it from her. She'd had her chance to be surprised with her own kids. She still thinks I shouldn't find out, but at least now she doesn't mind me telling her about it.

    Sorry it's so long, good luck, and I hope that some things can be worked out with the offended parties.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Ugh - I'm so sorry on all counts - it IS awkward (and possibly the worst part of marrying into a family) I hope the awkwarditity (:D) goes away soon and everyone can just be happy for your new arrival! :D

    ReplyDelete
  6. just want you to know, I didn't see anything wrong with it! I love you xoxo don't be sad! And I'm excited for a new baby- for you on account that well, I probably won't be able to have any more EVER! I LOVE YOU!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hey people get over it. I'm the grand parent and do you know when I was told. I was told at my dad's funeral. You know what try being happy and sad at the same time. It can be done. Nancy and Andrew I say congrats and more power to you. Gee, I haven't checked but I wonder if Hallmark has a card for that, they say they have a card for all occasions. Love you two and your family no matter how big it gets.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hey—you're the one who skipped out on dinner with us! We were planning on telling you at dinner, not at the funeral! ;)

    ReplyDelete
  9. So I just thought I would tell the story of how I announced that I was pregnant with Nancy to my parents and siblings...

    We all were at the Alberta temple together--Mom and Dad, Bruce C. and Judy, Colleen and LeRon and Bruce L. and I. Well, that makes it almost all; since Arlene and Michael were in San Diego, they were not there. This was actually the only time ever that I have been in the temple with that many of my siblings at the same time--well, maybe the same number were at Elizabeth's wedding...

    So, I goofed up and a temple worker corrected me and she wasn't very nice about it. And I started to cry. And once I started to cry, I couldn't stop. So I was crying off and on for the whole two hour session. (The sessions were two hours then. I am not making that up.) I went through all of my own kleenex, and then my Mom passed me kleenex, and Colleen and Judy passed my kleenex...my face was leaking most horribly.

    Afterwards, I was still in the dressing room, but unknown to me, Colleen went rushing up to Bruce L. and said "Is Myrna pregnant?" Your dad said, "Well, we think so." Colleen said, "Oh, I knew it! She has been crying so much, I knew she had to be pregnant. I get that way, too!"

    And then Colleen spread the news to Mom and Judy and their respective men, and when I came out, they all knew.

    I don't know who told Arlene...probably Mom.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Loved this post... So filled with deep emotion and life! I loved the way you announced your pregnancy, Nancy! It was a lot of fun which fits perfectly with a (wanted) pregnancy!

    ReplyDelete