One should have known, naming a baby Stephen (after his maternal uncle), Philip (after his father), Kinnaird (his mother’s maiden name) Wise that he would have to be all things to all people.
Born the first grandchild on his father’s side and the only grandson on either side, the pressure was on my nephew from the get-go. Thank goodness, he hasn’t let anyone down. He is graduating from high school this weekend, which has me thinking about what kind of aunt I have been.
My energetic mother seemed to throw all her love and attention onto this first grandchild, so that my siblings and I quietly remarked that future grandchildren would never be able to measure up. Much to our relief, when my sister had Madeline, our mom poured just as much pride and love into helping to raise her and her younger sister Molly.
Those of you who live far from your nieces and nephews, like me, probably got invited at some point into the school competition “Where’s Stephen,” where a book gets circulated around the country and postcards are sent in from various states. Like any good aunt, I was bound and determined that Stephen should have the most postcards, so I bugged every person I knew to participate. Those are the silly things you do to make sure your nieces and nephews have the support they need.
An early drama related to Stephen was when I received a call from my mother, clearly holding back tears—which for this strong-minded woman did not happen often. My brother Phil had called and told her they had learned at Stephen’s annual medical checkup that he would not reach much taller than five feet. Given that I am barely five feet, it was hard to get overly upset, but I could envision that this handsome young boy with the gorgeous dark eyes and glowing Mediterranean skin reaching only five feet tall might not be ideal. My “glass is half full” mother choked out that he could at least be a jockey, and a great one! After many phone calls back and forth, we discovered a miscommunication between Stephen’s parents, so that his mother Melissa had no clue where anyone got the notion that Stephen would be short. Crises averted.
In fact, Stephen steadily grew and quickly surpassed me in height, and today towers almost a foot taller than me. I have many memories of watching him grow up, most of which involve sitting through innumerable soccer and football games, cheering on a team that usually lost. Living in another state, many times I had to watch him grow up from afar, but I tried never to miss being there for important occasions. Stephen and I always helped his mother bake and decorate her amazing plethora of Christmas cookies. How many boys are not only willing to help, but have fun doing it?
I think Stephen is also unique in that he always acted like he enjoyed going on trips with his aunt (me) and grandmother. Not many teenage boys are willing to travel with old fuddy-duddies like us, much less laugh through it all. My mother and I have taken him to see the Grand Canyon, where he acted like he enjoyed the hokey train holdup by bandits and cowboys on the way. He was such a good sport about laughing it off. He flew down the natural water slide at Sliderock, Arizona, with me until we were both so waterlogged we could hardly see. We dragged him to Acoma pueblo in the middle of another not, dry New Mexico summer, and watched a pathetic fireworks celebration at another pueblo one Fourth of July where he acted like he had never seen such stupendous fireworks. These are memories that my mother and I will never forget.
Last year, Stephen brought friends with him snowboarding in Santa Fe. Imagine four high school boys on spring break, all the trouble they can get into—my imagination ran wild at the thought. Not only were they total gentlemen, but Stephen’s snowboarding ability improved exponentially in just a few days. My husband Rob, brother Phil, and I skied through some tough slopes and hid behind trees to check on their big talk—and ended up amazed at how good those boys had gotten in such a short time. How wonderful to be young and athletic!
I know that through all of the good times I’ve had with my nephew, I have been nothing but an embarrassment to him most of the time, though he generally kept it to himself. How many aunts hand-carry a sharp iron warrior’s spear home from Africa for their preteen nephew? Yet it seemed to be a perfectly appropriate thing to do, much to his parents’ chagrin. However, the last time I was visiting Dallas with my new iPhone—my nephew had owned one for months already, of course—he was showing me his favorite apps when he started grinning wildly. “Aunt Jenny, what in the world are you doing texting like that? Everyone knows you just use your two thumbs. That is so lame!”
What do I know? I can only imagine, as I fly home to watch him receive his diploma this week, of the many things I will do in the next 48 hours that will mortify him. And yet he will smile and say nothing. Maybe that, after all, is why God made aunts and uncles.