Family has one of the biggest influences over who we become and how we approach the world. It is these relationships that shape the way we think, act, and ultimately live. It wasn’t until I became an aunt at the ripe old age of 5 that I fully understood how true that was.
When my sister got pregnant earlier than my family ever expected, the outcome was my baby niece who was only 5 years younger than me. Now, being the youngest, this was just about my worst nightmare. I was suddenly bumped into this weird sphere of technically being the youngest child of my parents, but now being an honorary middle child to them and my sisters. My niece became the little sister I had never wanted, and she began to take all the attention off of me with her adorable chubby cheeks and charming personality. I was, to put it lightly, insanely jealous.
So, from that moment on I decided she was my mortal enemy. Whenever she would try and tag along or I would be forced to include her with my friends, I would make it known how annoyed I was or outright ignore her. She had infiltrated every part of my life, and I was not going to let her get away with it. This may sound over-the-top and dramatic, and as much as it was, elementary school me didn’t know how else to explain how left behind I had felt: by my sister as she became a mom, by my parents as they stepped into grandparenthood, and by my other sisters as they didn’t share my same frustration. As much as I tried to shed this chip on my shoulder, I couldn’t not feel wronged and take it out on my niece.
Fast forward to my teenage years. My niece was now in late elementary and beginning middle school. She had finally outgrown her crybaby phase and began to experience the same things I had only recently also gone through. It seemed like we finally had some common ground and could have a conversation without bickering. I don’t know what exactly clicked for me, but I finally stepped into that big sister role that she had always looked at me for. I wish I could say it happened sooner, but I’m still happy that I get to call her one of my best friends now.
She has taught me so much about the world, even if I didn’t want to accept it at first. I have never met a more genuine and caring person than Gabby, my niece, and watching her become the person she is has been such an honor. I can see the way people are astonished by her individuality, maturity, and kindness, and I feel a flicker of those old feelings from childhood arise. Only this time, they are marked by pride and the complete utter joy that she has this mesmerizing effect on people. As her aunt and friend, I get to encourage this in her and give her advice that I never got as a kid. It has become one of the best, if not the best, part of my life.
Now, I have three more nephews and one more niece giving me a run for my money as an aunt. They are much younger than Gabby, and I am much older than them. With the oldest being 9 and the youngest being 3, I get to coddle them, give them gifts, and be the cool, young aunt that spontaneously takes them places. Obviously, I’m their favorite. Gabby prepared me for this role and taught me how to be a good aunt, and for that, I am grateful to her.
I have never felt such a strong love and bond to anyone than I do my nieces and nephew, and the feeling is so powerful it is almost indescribable. They have truly made me a better person who leads with kindness and empathy in my actions, and I cannot wait to see what else they teach me in the future.