That’s your name for now, because I’ve asserted my Aunt’s Privilege to name you while you’re a fetus. Don’t ask where it came from – the joke was barely funny in the moment and wore thin the first time I repeated it. Just know that before you made the transition from parasitic cell bundle to squalling bag of vomit and shit, you were Erasmus because I said so.
“Because I said so,” is probably a phrase you’re going to hear a lot. Your mother and I were raised with that line, so it’s probably permanently imprinted on her brain. It’s a terrible justification; patronizing, dismissive, and unhelpful. By the time you’re an adult, those four words are probably going to have driven you pretty thoroughly nuts. You’re right, and your mom knows it. If it helps, what your mom really means when she says it is, “I love you, but I don’t have time or energy to get into this now, so let’s move on. Someday we can sit down to discuss it, even if that day is ten years from now when you keep me up past my bedtime because we’re hanging out and enjoying being adults together.”
I’m pretty confident, here in 2014, that you will get to the point where you enjoy being an adult with your parents. Right now, they’re both cool, interesting people who have their acts together in an impressive fashion and have made a lot of good decisions in preparation for when you’d come along to ruin their lives. Parenthood is probably going to make it harder for them to be cool and interesting – you’re about to take away all their free time and spare energy – but they’ll come through. Keep that in mind when you’re dealing with their latest incarnation of irrational injustice. They were cool once. Someday, they’ll be cool for you, too.
Once you’re born you’re going to get fed a steady diet of saccharine nonsense about blood being thicker than water, the power of unconditional love from parents, how children transform the adults in charge of them etc. etc. ad nauseum. Most of it’s not true. We tell lies to protect the future of our species, and we’re a successful species because we’re really good at telling lies. Right now, your mom is tired all the time, distressed to realize that having boobs does change your physical presence in the world, and miserable at the smell of cooking garlic. These aren’t good things. This isn’t love.
She’ll get there, though, not because her hormones are going to cook her brain until she doesn’t know better, but because she wants to. You’re going to find as you grow up that love is a stupid, malicious, dangerous thing. Wanting to have it for somebody already has you pretty far down the road toward being infected with it. I think that makes it mean more than the tripe they’ll feed you in kids’ movies and books – your mom loving you isn’t an accident of nature, but a disease she deliberately contracted for you.
I don’t love you yet, either. I’m not even sure I like you. I want to, I’m hoping to, but you’re stealing my baby sister from me in a way that me moving and her getting married never managed. People relocate, marriages fail, but despite my steady campaign for legalized infanticide, you can’t un-have a kid. You’re going to be the blood relative with the top priority. Your potential siblings are going to cram into the #1 spot there with you, bumping me back just a bit further. I’m not jealous – that’s not the sort of thing that triggers jealousy in me – but I am sad about it.
You’ll probably understand; your mom is at the top of a very short list of people who are my favorite people in all of the world for all time, and I’m not finished with her yet. I still want to be able to plan trips together to places neither of us have ever been. I want her to be able to drop everything and come see me for a few days so I can take her around to eat eight different kinds of macaroni and cheese when we aren’t plopped on the couch watching obscene amounts of television together. I want to keep swapping recipes for ever more elaborate desserts. I want to find the hundreds of other things we’d wind up doing together if she weren’t about to make raising you her primary time-suck.
And I worry about her a bit. She used to play saxophone, and she was phenomenally good at it. Your parents have definitely bonded over shared marching band experience, but jazz was where your mom belonged. She did absolutely gorgeous art, too. It’s not your fault these things dropped away – she fell out of them in college so I can’t even really blame your dad for it – and I don’t think your mom feels like she’s missing something without them. But I notice them missing, and I worry a bit that someday she will, too. Or that the important things in her life now will fall away when she takes on her new life with you. I worry about your mom way, way more than I need to, but I love her and she’s far away so that’s what happens.
I hate children. I’m going to be the aunt who makes everybody a little uncomfortable because she forgets that not everybody thinks it’s appropriate to joke about confusing the turkey and the baby at Thanksgiving. And your dad is already terrified of the corruption and damaging influence I’m going to rain down on you. (So far, he’s being a champ about it.) Don’t take it personally; it’s childhood, not you personally, that I can’t stand. Being a kid is awful. It’s all about being ignorant and helpless and being expected to be grateful to the people around you just because you happen to be ignorant and helpless near them and they haven’t smothered you yet. But when adults complain about being adults, usually what prompted it is that they’ve come up against ignorance and helplessness again when they’d expected to leave that behind with childhood. The biggest difference between kids and grownups is their capacity to deal with that.
I can’t change the choices your mom made that put her where she is now. I wouldn’t if I could, because she’s made the choices she needed to make for her to be happy. And that means you. For at least the next eleven years, you’re going to be a child. But I love your mom, and having you is going to make her happy which means that whatever I’m losing out on, whatever downsides there are, you’re important to me. That’s not love, not yet. It’s a start, though. I didn’t like your mom for the first few years, either, and now look at where we are.
It is my sincere intention to be the coolest, most awesome Aunt in the history of big sisters. I’m going to spoil you so rotten you won’t have a choice but to like me, and I’m going to try being the kind of adult in your life you’ll go to when you’ve got awkward questions about life you don’t want to talk about with your mom and dad. I am probably going to screw this up. I’ll be too far away to be properly involved. I’ll be condescending or patronizing or obviously uninterested. I’ll wind up doing one of the thousands of obnoxious things adults do to kids because they aren’t real people and you’ll be clever enough to remember I did it and hold it against me when I get better. I’m sorry. I hope apologizing in advance makes it better. I really hope you’ll be enough of a smart ass to tell me off for it, cleverly, so I can shut my fat mouth and do better.
Mostly, I hope we like each other. I hope the little pieces of your mom that I’m losing are just an investment in getting another person to put on my short list of people who are my favorite people in all the world forever. I hope I’m the kind of aunt who you care about enough that being on that list means something to you.
And I hope you’ll smother me in my sleep with a pillow if I ever feed you a saccharine platitude about love, family, or growing up.
With fond expectations,