Before maturing into Mom-hood, I mastered Bad Aunt-hood.
Once upon a time my sister went into labor while I was visiting, so I thought it best to get the hell out of Dodge, aka, suburban Connecticut. While I packed in record time, the nanny, while driving to babysit my sister’s kids, had a car accident, ending up in the same hospital my sister was about to give birth in. My suggestion of bringing the kids to the ER so Mommy and the nanny could babysit from matching gurneys amused no one.
I delayed my flight back home. Olivia, 5 and loud, hugged her laboring mother.
OLIVIA: Have a good baby!
An electric charge of imminent upheaval followed my sister outside. A burst of cold, late October air escaped inside, making us all feel that much more shivery and alone. Then three little heads swiveled from their departing parents to me.
Until this point my three nieces only knew me as the aunt with bad jobs, worse boyfriends, inappropriate fashion choices. Since I wasn’t good at many things, I was pretty great at being pretty bad. Confident the world didn’t need another bad mom, I specialized in being the best Bad Aunt I could be.
I allowed my nieces to tie up my boyfriend with a muddy garden hose during a christening party. I let them wear my platform shoes and jump on Granny’s good couch. I taught them how to spit, apply too much eyeliner and good insults for bad boys. Their parents had always lurked nearby to brainwash their kids back to civility. Until now. Little kids only realize they are little when they are suddenly parent-less.
Freedom is scary when you don’t have someone keeping you from it.
As six massive blue eyes widened and dampened while eying me, a survival instinct I didn’t know I had kicked in.
ME: How about a game?
They nodded bravely. Olivia solemnly located the Game of Life. While my nieces bickered over which game piece to be, I wondered what the hell I’d done with the life I’d used up since last punching a Pop-O-Matic while chanting for a six.
Stacking useless money into neat piles, I noticed the Game of Life had evolved. Squares used to say things like “Turn your kid’s playroom into a Tiki Bar. Collect $1000.00.” Now squares say things like, “Start a community garden! Kiva your $10,000 to an organic poncho start-up in Peru and move ahead three spaces, unless you’d prefer to give your turn to at-risk youth.”
We began. The first choice is either college or head straight into career-land. Hannah, the oldest and most careful, dutifully chose college, which unrealistically didn’t catapult her into decades of debt. Molly and Olivia leaped into Life, choosing full-blown careers from a slippery stack of cards. Simply picking a card transformed Molly into a professional tennis player earning $80,000 a year.
MOLLY: Wow! Does this mean I have to marry Andre Agassi?
I refrained from telling her how 80k a year would be eaten up by training, injury, travel expenses, and that Agassi was not marriage material. (This was pre-Steffi.)
Olivia’s career card made her a 5 year old computer programmer pulling down $120,000 a year.
OLIVIA: I’m richer than all you people.
As Hannah experienced her first co-ed anxiety attack and Molly burned with competitive fury, I asked Olivia if she needed a personal assistant.
While Molly and Olivia effortlessly hit milestones that I’ve either missed or ruined, Hannah worried if college would give her any advantage in her game Life.
Thankfully, Milton Bradley knows better than to depress little kids with the modern facts of life.
No game cards condemn you to dignity-averse jobs and no health insurance. No one lands on a square leading you into long, twisted relationships with men who finally realize they are gay. No squares have you divorced by 34, trolling for love on the internet, living in an illegal sublet with a mean, deaf cat.
Hannah sulked from work-study as Molly parlayed her tennis fame into a chain of workout clubs, earning her an additional 20 thousand bucks every five minutes, then she up and impulsively married the first blue peg who proposed.
Without thinking, I placed Molly’s tiny husband in her driver’s seat. Molly asked me why she couldn’t drive the car she earned with her own pink money and I was ashamed at how automatically I regressed to how life was when I was her age.
In the 1970s, winning Life for girls meant finding safe harbor in a rich doctor and dutifully sitting shotgun as he drove us home to Millionaire’s Row.
But this was 2003, so Molly bought her husband his own car with her large stack of pastel Benjamins. Then they were blessed with twins (courtesy of a gestational surrogate, no doubt).
And, in this Game of Life, Molly’s twins rode in her husband’s car and I was jealous of a 7-year-olds’ toy life. Upon graduation, Hannah became an accountant. I wanted my brilliant first niece to have a more dazzling career, but she collected a percentage off every subsequent bank transaction, quietly amassing more fake money than I have real.
Then Olivia wanted to change careers since she didn’t know what a computer programmer was and I didn’t either. She ended up sheriff, which suited her just fine.
But Molly was the It Girl of Life, becoming a diplomat and the editrix of Icelandic Vogue, before tragedy struck. Molly had a catastrophic car accident. Does any 7 year-old think she needs car insurance? Molly gulped as I had to repo her cars and subtracted much of her net worth.
We held our breath, waiting for her to throw a tantrum. Chastened and pale, with Joan-of-Arc-on-fire solemnity, Molly finally issued a public statement.
MOLLY: Well... that’s life. We nodded ruefully.
There but for the grace of God goes our tiny brightly colored game pieces. Soldiering on, Molly won a MacArthur genius grant for her work with ecologically responsible Play-Doh. No doubt due to the disappearing middle class, Milton Bradley has done away with the Poor Farm.
Nowadays, everyone ends up with a cardboard McMansion and a drought tolerant garden on Millionaire’s Row. This Life truly is but a game.
Then their dad called. My sister gave birth. Another perfect girl. As my nieces cheered, I smiled, content these four girls will grow up to be their own safe harbors.
We collected the little colored pegs and started again, from scratch. It still took me another 14 years to grow up enough to become the oldest living mother in captivity.
In an attempt to bring new readers up to speed on how I became This Old Mom, I’m retroactively blogging about our attempts at fertility, foster system navigating and then adoption. This piece is actually based on something that happened years ago. You may visit www.thisoldmom.com to read more... if you dare.