My nephews loved it when I spoiled them. My sister didn't. Now that I'm a mom, I see why.

The Fun Aunt

The evidence of my transgressions lay before me. The drum set that couldn't be played quietly if one tried. A toy cell phone that chirped children's songs in irritating tones. And dozens of blocks, vehicles, and action figures that glowed, twirled, and buzzed.

My sister had these waiting for us when my son, Chet, and I arrived for our visit. She nonchalantly stated that her boys, ages 3 and 10, had outgrown them. "Let's see if Chet likes any. If he does, I'll pack them up for you to take home!"

I prayed that Chet, at 9 months, would set his sights on something more unassuming, like an empty paper-towel roll or the dog's food dish. But no such luck. He took to the toys in much the same way as my nephews had when I gave them as gifts years before. In picking those presents, cost, volume, and difficulty of assembly were no object. After all, I was the aunt. I had only a few days to visit, and spoiling my nephews rotten was my duty. I hadn't thought what it might have meant to my sister. Until now.

Chet squealed as a noisy toy train blinked its lights, and I watched my sister break into a grin. Was that satisfaction I sensed, now that she was finally having her turn?

I can't say I could blame her. It was a long time coming. I already had 10 years of aunthood. As my nephews grew older, we spent our visits hopped up on candy and soda, practicing death-defying feats in the backyard and running around the house like wild heathens. As the fun aunt, I had no allegiance to healthy meals or posted bedtimes. What was the point? After all, we were having too much fun!

Well, except maybe my sister. But at the time, I didn't understand the parent's perspective. And when the sugar high ended, the toys lost their allure, and exhaustion set in, I'd head out for the evening -- or go down for a nap.

The New Mom

But somewhere in my first few hazy weeks of motherhood, the gravity of parental responsibility set in. As I held my baby, I understood that I was the one who would have to say no. To set limits. To insist he eat his veggies, behave in public, and go to bed. When my son was overtired or hyper, the buck stopped right here. It was a harsh realization that this whole Mommy gig was not always going to be fun.

Luckily, most days are fun. And my son is teaching me that we can have happy times even when sugar is limited and bedtime is strictly enforced. That said, we also have our rough days, which are traversed with patience, a lot of hugs, and consistent parenting (with the odd shot of caffeine and sugar for my own personal use).

But my son needn't despair. My sister is standing by to make sure Chet never goes too long without a few new toys that shake or rattle. And I doubt he'll suffer long without candy and soda.

And when he's had enough, I'll be right there, holding my dirty, cranky boy tightly as his aunt heads off into the sunset.

Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the November 2007 issue of American Baby magazine.

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