We are bathed in the halo of a nightlight. It's just enough to make out the features of his face and how close he is to sleep. He's been fed and nourished and now the cadence of the rocking chair lulls us both. His eyelids flutter but he hasn't quite given in.
His fingers feather over my cheek, my mouth, my chin before his arm drops down slack on my chest. Soon. His eyes shut and so do mine. I rest my head against the cushioned rocking chair and let my thoughts wander for a few minutes.
Who will this sweet boy grow up to be? I'm not in any rush to lay him down, though his big sister awaits bedtime across the hall.
This Monday night routine nourishes and feeds me, even as it summons the ache I know too well. He is not my son. She is not my daughter. I am their auntie.
From the moment they were born, they became my niece-in-love and nephew-in-love and I cherish them more than words can say.
But as the years have passed, this question bubbles up more than I’d like. Will I ever have children of my own? Will I be a perpetual aunt instead of a mother?
I can nurture someone’s children- and love doing so- but it does not fill the void of a dream deferred.
The other week I took my niece-in-love to dance class. While she pirouetted, I sat in the hallway with her baby brother and tempted him to nap. It never ceases to amaze me the way my best friends trust me with their children. Most of my babysitting over the years has been of the date night variety but now that the kids are getting older, we’re branching out into new territory.
A territory that invites public commentary and questions.
People passed by with knowing smiles as I bopped and swayed him to sleep. I prayed no one would ask me how old he is. His auntie has never been good at numbers, much less the preference to measure a baby’s age by weeks instead of months. His mom knows exactly how old he is, I remind myself.
Still, I feel I’ve failed in some way, even when the question isn’t asked. A mother would know and I’m not a mother.
I look the part. There’s no reason why I couldn’t have kids, save for that pesky business of not finding a husband yet. While I know singles who have adopted or gone other routes, that’s not a choice I want to make.
I live in the tension between what I want and what my reality is and most days that’s fine. A fleeting thought may bring up questions- why? when? how?- but I’m used to the not knowing. I usually process it and move along with my day. Then there are days when those fleeting thoughts sting like arrows and more often than not, they come compliment of what someone else has assumed or said to me. Bless them.
The past 3 years I nannied for an amazing family. I adore the little girl I took care of. At the same time, it was bittersweet. So often people took in our brown hair and blue eyes and assumed she was mine. We have a special relationship and I hope it continues for the rest of our lives. I wasn’t her mom and didn’t covet that role for myself.
Sometimes we’d be out and about and someone would tell me I was a good mom. A pang resounded in my heart because I thought I would have had my first child a decade ago and it hasn’t happened. Because I felt like a pretend mother. Because I wish it was true. Because now I’m “advanced maternal age” and there are only so many years left before the dream becomes a fantasy. Because I wish I understood the references my friends, conference speakers, and even pastors make.
I look at the children in my life and have no doubt of my impact on their lives and this counts for so, so much. Even on the days when it calls up my own questions, doubts, and heartache.
Now that it’s Advent, references to Mother Mary abound. And while I wish I could relate in a visceral way to her story, I can’t. Maybe some day I will. I’m not going to insulate myself from maternal references or wonder why not me. Some Christmas seasons I’ve needed to retreat but this one, I’m celebrating. I’m celebrating the kids in my one messy, beautiful life.
I wouldn’t trade being Auntie Yee and Miss Leigh for anything. All I can do is be my best self, for me and for them. Now is for snuggling, reading stories, giggling, and playing with the children already here.
And if that’s all this life holds for me? Then I will do my best to call myself blessed and trust it is as it should be.
This post was originally published at A Deeper Family today. Head over to read it there.