I’m an Aunt, with a capital A. Be careful with the spelling. I’m not ant. Or am I? Ants have colonized nearly every landmass on Earth. The same may be said for Aunts. Ants thrive in most ecosystems, as do Aunts. Success for ants is due to their social organization, and their ability to use whatever resource is at hand. That’s me. Ants have a division of labor that depends on communication between each individual. I fail to see a conflict when we speak of Aunts.

Fire ants

Ants are cool!

The division of labor for Aunts is to relieve the labor of parents. We accomplish this eagerly. The youngest of my nieces and nephews is 10-years old. I was right there in the delivery room when she was born. Our bond was thus forged. Though a plane ride is required to reunite us I witnessed most of the milestones: her first word (Jetta, the mean, oops, misunderstood girl from Clifford the Big Red Dog books). I watched her wobble and take that first step. I was present the first time she saw a squirrel, and screamed in fright, then attempted to scale the height of my leg. Early on, I began to call her Muffin, and still do.

Once, when her parents escaped for the weekend she woke up crying in the night. She was on the cusp of one, and had just begun to walk. When I appeared in the doorway her tears instantly abated. She scrambled out of the covers, stood tottering in her footed Bob the Builder pj’s, opened her arms wide, and rushed to me. I carried her upstairs to her parents’ king-sized bed, though we would have managed comfortably on a twin. I woke to the soft pressure of an outstretched arm at my throat, and a Siamese cat curled into the crook of my arm. By way of explanation for the previous night’s fear, she confided that a Heffalump was out to get her.

Pooh's Heffalump Movie

Doesn't look so scary..

One Halloween when she was 5, she and I sashayed through the mall. Though she is not a girly-girl (dinosaurs preoccupied her for years) and disdains anything pink, on this night she dressed up as a princess (in blue), replete with heels that clacked along the tile floors, and garnered her much attention. Muffin is far more social than I am, so we were obliged to linger, and chat with a significant number of the merchants doling out sweets.

The highlight of our year is a three-week block of time between summer camp and school when Muffin boards the plane to California. We swim in the Russian River, picnic in the apple orchard, attend the county fair, and hit Screamin’ Mimi’s Ice Cream shop half a dozen times. She even looks forward to a yoga class.

Vanilla ice cream cone I bought at Camp Manito...

Yummy!

I also have a namesake niece. Our birthdays are in August, a week apart. When she was two, at a joint birthday celebration, she had a sudden realization. Eyes wide, she sputtered incredulously, “We got the boff names!” If Steph chooses to be a mother, I will embarrass her yet again, and repeat it to her kids. Sometimes we refer to her as Little Steph, sometimes as Steph2. She and I play Scrabble on our phones. My texting skills have improved dramatically due to our contact.

I regret that I didn’t spend more time with other nieces and nephews when they were young. But, I was young then too, filled with wanderlust, traipsing around the globe, carefree, or working so I could maintain my carefree wanderlust. So I savor every moment I spend with young Muffin as we travel through the years together. And I savor every message I receive from Steph2. I hold those moments close to my heart. I like to believe that for each other we are the North Star; we always know where to find the other.

An artist's impression of Sirius A and Sirius ...

We know where to find each other.

If I were an ant, I’d choose to be a soldier ant. Soldier ants protect their queen, defend the colony, gather food and attack enemy colonies when threatened. I’d hope to be that proud soldier ant, the one that guarded her young niece, and older namesake niece too, as needed.

Thanks for listening!

girl and dog with hat

Muffin & best friend a few years ago

steph on train

Steph2