Turtle's Progress

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Being Aunt Terry

There is something about your siblings' kids… When they are babies you want to scoop them up, you stare in wander at the babies they are. You laugh with their parents as they learn to walk and talk. You listen as they relay their concerns about your niece or nephew and their development. Sometimes they call you up just to share a laugh about the funny thing they said. Okay, I know I’m mainly talking about my sister – she and I have talked a lot about our kids over the years, and I feel fortunate that Meghan and Erin who are now adults, consider their Aunt Lori one of their best friends.

But here I am, Aunt Terry. Aunt to mostly boys who are actually pretty unknown creatures to me. My sister’s boys, Noah and Aaron, are at that age (17 and 13) where they aren’t much interested in their own parents, much less a much older Aunt Terry. I enjoy them when I’m in California and we have some funny memories…. Noah at three answers my question “Who’s the best Aunt Terry in the world?” “You’re not!” Funny, that’s not how he answered when Lori asked “Who’s the best mom in the world?” Aaron at five looking up at me when I picked him up from kindergarten one day, “You look like my mom.” Thanks, Aaron – nice to look like a ten year younger sister! Noah sitting on my lap at four, rubbing my face, finding a few stray chin hairs, “You have a beard! Yuck!” Aaron at 12 patiently explaining to his non-California residing Aunt about what skim-boarding is and why he likes it so much. Taking Aaron to the movies to see “Dead Man’s Chest” and getting the tip that we need to buy candy elsewhere because it’s cheaper!

My brother Gary’s kids, Sheri and Kevin, are about the same age as Noah. I see and hear about them even less than I do Noah and Aaron. Gary and I just don’t have the kind of relationship where we call each other and talk about our kids. But I do see them whenever I’m in town and am in awe of how quickly they have grown. Sheri is beautiful and lives on her own now; a young apartment-dweller with a roommate and a full-time job. Kevin is a high school junior; tall, handsome, athletic and focused on a career in law enforcement. Gary and Dana have much to be proud of with these kids.

My brother Mark’s son, Jake, is the reason I started this post. He’s been in my thoughts a lot this past month. He was born in 1983 just as my family began four years of residence just 40 miles from my hometown. I saw him grow from a baby into a toddler and preschooler. He and Mark lived with my parents so whenever we visited he was there growing and changing and wanting to play with Meghan and Erin, his older cousins, who were always fun and patient with him. I saw as he became the light of my grandmother’s eyes during her final years. She lived with my parents and took care of him when everyone else in the house was at work. He loved nothing better than to spend time in her room playing with his cars, sitting on her lap, riding on the back of her wheelchair or whatever else he could talk her into playing with him. He knew loss at a very early age when she died and he was barely six years old. But he and Mark continued to live with Mom and Dad, he grew up surrounded by people who loved him. His dad, his grandparents, his maternal grandmother and aunts who spent time with him whenever they could. But he never had much of a relationship with his own mother; she was in and out of his life, had two more children younger than Jake to take care of and never seemed to worry much about her oldest son. Jake became a black belt in tae kwon do, learned to hunt with his grandfather (my dad) graduated from junior high and high school (my favorite picture of his high school graduation shows him beaming between his grandmothers – his surrogate mothers). He began working for the local school district as a janitor. During the years since high school he seems to have lost his way… he lost jobs, wrecked cars, drank too much, smoked too much (of everything). He ended up without a job and living in a small camping trailer in my parent’s backyard.

His life was going nowhere fast and our parent’s limited retirement income was supporting him. My sister and I had had enough and decided to have an “intervention”. We tried to include Mark and Gary. Mark said he was too close to the situation but he would support whatever we said, Gary opted out because he was afraid of his reaction if Jake “gave him attitude”. So Lori and I began the task… and at first, we got attitude. Jake accused us with our “perfect lives” of looking at him and judging. But then the tide turned, my sister was amazing. She wore down the attitude, she made him look her in the eye, she held his face in her hands, looked him straight in the eye and told him she knew his life had not been easy, that he had not had the best parents in the world, but that she knew he was BETTER than living in a camping trailer in his grandparents’ backyard. Lori talked to him about how depressing it must be to live in that trailer, how upsetting to live off his grandparents, how we knew he didn’t want to live like that but that he needed help to get out of the rut he was in. He cried with us, we stroked him, we supported him, we helped him look at his options, and we eventually helped him make the decision to join the Navy. We took him to the Navy recruiter’s office the next day. It’s been a month since then, he has had some ups and downs, but today he goes to the military in-processing center for his physical, his PT test, the ASFAB test, career counseling, and should be sworn in tomorrow. I’m proud of him for doing this and can’t wait to see how his life will unfold with this new opportunity. But the comment from him that I will always hold close to my heart is what he said when we were all laughing as we left the recruiters’ office that first time. One of the recruiters thought I was his mother, Lori (ten years younger than me and only 20 years older than Jake) was just glad they didn’t think she was his mother. Jake just sat in the back seat as we laughed and said, “I wish.”
Not living near my hometown for the past 35 years has definitely affected the relationships I could or would have had with my siblings’ children. Whenever I’m home and see them all I often wish for a closer relationship but my brothers and sisters have done well by their children and I couldn’t be prouder to call all of them niece and nephew.
Here are some pics with my nephews included. First one, that is Aaron and Noah on the left. Second one, there is Kevin back row left and Jake (Seaman Recruit Jacob D. Keith) front right. Love you guys!!!!


At 9:08 AM, Blogger Joyce said...

Love the blog. The words of wisdom, caring and loving just shows how one can help another. I am so happy to hear that Jake has another opportunity in his life to see there IS something out there for him. He will prosper from this..I know. He is so fortuante to have two Aunts that were by his side; when needed.

Congtates to Lori and my dear special, Best Friend, Terry.
Love you...

At 10:47 AM, Blogger erin said...

Well if that isn't blogworthy I don't know what is! Way to go Mom and Aunt Lu but, more importantly, WAY TO GO JAKE!!!

At 4:41 PM, Anonymous Lori said...

Wow did that ever make me cry! Those are some very, very lucky niece and nephews to have you as there Aunt Terry.

As for Jake I'm so happy to have him back... It seems like he's been lost for so long.

At 11:31 AM, Anonymous Jennifer said...

You two did a very good and loving thing! No one wants to see Jake end up in the same position as his dad. I'm so glad it all worked out!!

At 5:09 PM, Blogger A.K. said...

great to see you back in the blog world and what an excellent post to start off with! missed reading your blogs!

At 8:39 PM, Blogger Amy said...

We'd love to see you in Huntsville next week. . . definitely try to make it down!

And I was very happy that I got to see Charlotte yesterday. It's amazing how much she's changed in the last few months. . . adorable as ever, though!

At 4:07 PM, Anonymous Lori said...

Knock, Knock, Knock Hello, anyone home at this blog?

At 11:10 AM, Blogger Jerri said...

Jake is very fortunate to have you and your sister. Blessed, I'd say.

Thank you for the kind comment on my blog. And for the alpha hydroxy suggestion. I'm going to get some this afternoon.


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