I was just barely 19 when I first became an aunt, and even then it was a surreal experience.
9 more nieces and nephews later, I became a mother at the age of 38. I never thought I’d ever became one, and only now I’ve realised how much ‘aunting’ has helped shape me into being a mother.
My first foray into the world of babies and diapers was in 1998, when my sister-in-law gave the family the first nephew and the first grandkid.
I didn’t know much about babies – well actually I knew nothing about them. Friends even commented that I had no maternal bones whatsoever in me.
Thanks for the vote of faith guys.
There was one time that my brother and sister-in-law needed to go to work and my mom, who was taking care of the baby, had to go for her medical check-up.
I was tasked to look after my baby nephew for a few hours.
I thought I’d just need to feed him the bottle when he got up, and that should be simple enough right?
Wrong. He woke up wailing, refused the bottle and I didn’t even know how to change his diapers or hold him properly.
In the end, I cried along with him, and my mom came back to two screaming ‘babies’.
My brother’s daughter was born shortly after, and I thought I’d do better this time around. As it turned out, I still didn’t get enough practice with the first one. I had no guts to hold a newborn baby, I still didn’t know how to change the diapers or feed her.
But instead, I’ve realised what my role would be.
I’d be the cool aunt that my nieces and nephews would turn to when they’re in the hot water with their parents. ‘Mi casa es su casa’ to them. My doors will always be open for them to crash for the night, or whenever they like. I’d take them out for shopping trips, hiking, running – anything.
Mind you, at this point, my first two nephews and niece were just 2 and 1-year-old.
And so the rest of the other two younger brothers got married and built families of their own, leaving me as the only single one left. And yes, I did get the endless ‘when’s your turn to get married and have babies’, ‘you’re the only girl in the family, you should’ve been the one who has a family first’ remarks from relatives. But that’s another story to tell.
I was still the ‘come-to-me-when-you-wanna-have-fun-but-go-back-to-your-parents-when-you’re-dirty-and-crying-and-need-feeding’ kind of aunt, until Farah, my second niece came along.
She changed me from being that kind of aunt, to a more responsible and reliable one.
I was so excited when my brother called me to inform that his wife was in labour, that I accidentally locked myself out of the house. I even spent the night at the hospital couch waiting for Farah to arrive (actually I had no choice, as I was locked out and had to wait for the spare keys the next day).
When she finally arrived, I took her into my arms – my very first time holding a newborn. And I didn’t even squirm a bit.
Of all my nieces and nephews, I visited her the most. I found myself increasingly missing her each time I left my brother’s house. Coming home to an empty house didn’t feel so appealing or exciting anymore. In fact, her parents’ friends kept commenting how much Farah’s looks resembled mine.
To me, that compliment was worth more than any awards of excellent services I had gotten over the years of working.
I felt myself changed after Farah was born. I often spent nights at her house, watching her through the night while my brother and sister-in-law rested. I learnt to change her diapers and clean her properly, fed her, played with her, babysat and took her out with just the two of us etc.
She sought ‘refuge’ in me whenever she got scolded by the parents, and we got even closer when her brother was born – as her parents had their hands full with him.
Farah turned 6 this year, the same year that I’m also blessed with my baby girl. All the worries and anxieties about raising a baby of my own lessened as I was reminded how much care I’ve provided for Farah while she was growing up.
But of course, nothing beats having a child of your own to fully understand what it’s like being a mother.
In the past, I’ve poured all my love, heart and soul to Farah.
Today, she’s doing the same to my baby girl, her cousin.
Farah dotes on her, showering her with hugs and kisses every time she sees her. She’ll follow me around, just like she used to do, but this time her curiosity, questions and concerns are all about my baby girl.
“Why is she crying Mangah? Is she hungry?”
“Is she like this at your home? Crying all the time?”
“Why does she have to wear the booties? She doesn’t know how to walk yet.”
And so on, and so forth.
I’ve changed so much since I became an aunt to Farah. I’m no longer just ‘the lady who always comes with gifts and treats’. Little did I know that all these changes actually prepared me for motherhood.
I was told that ‘only an aunt can give hugs like a mother, keep secrets like a sister and share love like a friend.’ Now I’m applying all the things and skills I learnt as a mother, thanks to my stint as an aunt all these years.
For more articles about family, read I’m a Chinese Girl Raised in a Traditional Chinese Family. Here’s My Story, and You Shouldn’t Lend Money to Friends and Family, and Here’s Why.