I realized after making this post that it's my 300th post! Yay! So I came back and made this note at the top of the post just so you can all help me celebrate that, in addition to...
It's my Aunt K's birthday today and since I'm too cheap and disorganized to get a gift out to her -- or even a card (sad) -- I thought I'd at least pay tribute to this wonderful lady, aunt, sister, mom and grandmother here at my blog. I'm not sure if she ever gets over here to read my blog, but maybe my mom will give her a head's up about this post.
My Aunt K is my mom's oldest sister. She's a typical first born child. She went to college and became a Kindergarten teacher (she's taught a couple other grades in the middle there, but mostly, she taught Kindergarten). She's been married for like a century (a bit of an exaggeration) to my very nice uncle, who is an expert at fixing and organizing things. He used to be a surfer when they met -- which always blows me away to have known him over the years since then. But I can see why my aunt and uncle chose each other. They created a good, harmonic team.
When I was growing up, my sisters and I used to go spend a week every summer with my aunt, uncle and cousins. She had the summer off, being a school teacher, and so our mom would drop us off at their house (almost three hours away) and we'd spend all week long swimming in their pool, making silly home movies and usually visiting somewhere exciting like a water park or Marine World (which is now affiliated with Six Flags and has rides and stuff -- but back then the only rides there were camel rides, and come to think of it, what were camels doing in Marine World?). We might as well have been at a more exotic location like Hawaii, but for my sisters and I, our aunt and uncle's house was practically better than that!
So right off the bat, you can see how I might admire someone like my Aunt K. She took her nieces in for a whole week (all three of us) and in addition to her own kids, she took us to fun places. You might say that she made a strong impact on me. You can see that I love doing that now -- taking our own kids and my nieces and going fun places. (Just today, I took us all to the Rio Grande Nature Center for a walk in their gardens and to hang out and learn stuff in their Education Center. Yay! And just $3.00 a carload, so a bargain at that.)
Also, when we would stay with her, I'd wake early (being the morning person I used to be) and she'd already be in her kitchen making the best scrambled eggs I'd ever tasted and tidying up for the day, etc. I'd come sit with her while she worked and we'd chat. I loved those early morning chats because it seemed like she really understood me. Maybe it was our first born connection, I don't know. But we'd talk about all kinds of things and those talks always left me feeling so good and so much closer to her.
In addition to all the good stuff in my Aunt K's life, like marriage and career success, she has also endured a lifetime of challenging times. True, all of us have, but one particular challenge (and I truly hope she doesn't mind me writing about it here -- especially since I'm not using her name) really stood out to me as a child because it came at such a pivotal time in my development, I think.
My cousins from this aunt and uncle number three. The oldest was born four years after I was and I was also very close with her (even though she was between my sisters in age), probably also for the first born thing. About five years after this cousin, another girl was born. And a couple years later, a boy was born.
So I was around nine, I think, when the second cousin came about and I remember visiting them and holding this tiny bundle. She was so cute and I was just old enough to feel like I could be sort of responsible and helpful to my aunt with her. I loved her instantly.
Imagine my shock a few months later, when my mother got the call as we sat around the breakfast table one morning, that this baby girl had died suddenly of SIDS. This was my first real experience with death and to have happened to someone so tiny and fragile was just beyond the furthest reaches of my imagination at that point. This was also an earlier time when not much had been learned about SIDS, so there were so many questions and really not many answers.
Anyway, I don't remember a lot about what was going on with the adults in the family at that time. I was very focused on my own feelings. My own reactions. I remember thinking how it wasn't fair because I'd only gotten to hold her one time -- I had plans to be a helper every summer and now those plans were spoiled.
As the years went on, discussion about this little girl who'd been called home so soon after her arrival here in the world, was not really an open topic. There were pictures of her in the houses of most all of our relatives, so it was clear she existed, but not much was said, for fear of upsetting people, I guess.
The thing is, from my perspective as a mother now, I cannot imagine the grief Aunt K must have endured at this loss. She carried this little girl for the entire pregnancy and a few months after her birth -- she must have studied every feature of her little body and grew to love her immensely -- only to have her taken away so soon. The thought of this happening is just too horrific to fathom. I don't know how she was still able to rise in the morning to care for her older daughter or how she was able to return to work, to life, to go on and eventually bring into this world their third child, a son.
He's an awesome kid, too. I say, "kid," because compared to me, he's a baby still, even though he's in his 20s now. Ha! Sorry, B. He's never been too cool -- even as a very cool teen boy -- to greet his old fogey cousin with a warm hug and he means the world to me. To think that were it not for my aunt and uncle's loss, there is a possibility B might not have been born ... I can't imagine a world without him in it. He is just a great person and I get to tell people he's my cousin. I'm so proud of him.
But they didn't know he was coming. They didn't know how his life would turn out. Their future was not motivation -- could not have been motivation -- for dealing with their grief and moving forward each day. To go through something so traumatic and then to keep living in spite of it all can only be a result of tremendous courage.
Here, I've had nothing as traumatic as that happen in my own lifetime, yet I have plenty of times when I fear the day and I feel petrified about taking a step forward just because some days seem too hard. I don't know if that's true for everyone. But Aunt K ... she did. She moved through and past the trauma and kept on pursuing her dreams and life ... she didn't let fear win.
And that, to me, is incredible and amazing and among all the special times she has spent with me over the years and for all the reasons I admire her, it is that courage that I seek in my own life. I want that. I want it for me and I want that for our children. I'm so thankful to have had her example to lead me.
Happy Birthday, Aunt K. I love you so much.