My college history professor once said “among every set of siblings there’s at least one who, if had power, would try to take over the world” (not sure if she was serious). My siblings and I don’t fall under this category (95% sure) but we certainly aren’t lacking for loud personalities. I can only imagine how we look to each others’ kids.
Unfortunately I can’t say I can be classified as the cool aunt (all my siblings are way cooler, with sister #2 topping all of us for coolness). Not the crazy one, girly one, fun one (by comparison). So what am I?
My Very Own Niche
I don’t know which aunt I am, but I do know this. There is one thing I do better than all the other aunts & uncles: I play pretend like it’s nobody’s business.
Creativity & Spontaneity
One day I took Vanessa’s kids to the pool early so they could play at the park before swim practice (back when the oldest three were between 6 and 11-years-old). After ten minutes, they were bored (what?!). When I suggested they come up with something they could all do, 6-year-old Amy tried to organize a game (the rules got elaborate, like outlining a book series) but the older kids lost interest.
It was incredible. And sad. So I took over the playtime leader role and my writer brain invented a scenario on the fly (with an emphasis on random).
The Pretend Adventure
The playground became an ice-themed ship disguised as an ice berg. We just rescued animals from an exploding volcanic island and the kids settled the animals in, chased them around, and fed them. We took turns at the helm, sailing at some invented super speed. All the while a penguin named Freddy kept disappearing from his pen and reappearing in strange places.
Suddenly the engine caught fire and we discovered a gaping leak in a lower deck – sabotage! Coming to a halt with the waterline rising, we bailed water and hunted for clues about the saboteur. To make matters worse, someone noticed big things moving in the water; we were surrounded by a pod of killer whales.
That’s when Freddy the penguin revealed himself as our anonymous hated enemy and that we were in his trap. We fought the whales with deck guns that shot Jolly Ranchers (sugary death!) but the whales (Freddy’s henchmen) bashed our ice ship so violently sometimes we lost footing or somebody fell overboard (we scrambled to rescue them from the end of a slide, two of us dragging them back aboard in the nick of time). The whales bit chunks out of our hull and soon there was seriously no point in bailing water. We were sinking. QUICKLY.
We threw out conveniently self-navigating life boats and loaded up all the animals that weren’t evil or laughing maniacally – there wasn’t enough room for us.
We the crew stuck together while the animals chugged toward safety, leaving us on the fraction of ship still above water, surround by evil orcas with Freddy the penguin watching us smugly from atop a whale’s back.
That’s when one of the girls spotted a tiny sandy island with two MASSIVE palms trees. Instead of coconuts, surfboards dangled from the trees in various sizes with cool designs. Surf boards? Why not, but we had a problem: we’d have to swim to it.
After a quick huddle with leery looks at our enemy, we split up around what was left of the ship and distracted the whales while one person waited and watched… then swam for the island (arms spinning, turning head to breathe, cheeks puffed ’cause holding breath) and crawled ashore.
YES! Ha! We did the same for the next two people until we were down to one and then it became a waiting game. Three of us waited on the island and the last kid stood on the end of the kiddy slide, looking across at us with her lower lip stuck out: “Don’t leave me.”
I coached her like it was the real deal (I don’t mess around with playing pretend). I instructed the two kids with me (Jake, Lauren) to keep a keen eye out for whales circling underwater, then addressed the youngest on the slide.
(The kids were awesome – not once did they hesitate to follow my outrageous leads. Anyway, I don’t recall exactly what I said but it went something like this.)
- Amy: What if they get me?
- Me: (Standing at the edge of the island) Hey, look at me. They’re not going to get you. When I say, you have to jump and swim as hard as you can. Don’t think, don’t look around, just swim.
- Amy: But-
- Me: (21+ years old and deathly serious – on a playground) I won’t let them get you. Lauren is keeping lookout and, if there’s trouble, Jake and I ‘ll jump in. You’ll be fine. You can do it. Okay?
- Amy: (nodding, biting her lip with a deep breath; she tried so hard to act along with me; she also struggled not to grin because she was having a blast)
(NOTE: We got all dramatic, it was fabulous. And funny, too, because we earned some weird stares from passers by who looked like they wondered if there was an actual emergency or something.)
Lauren gave the all-clear and I shouted GO! Amy jumped and swam – but was pulled under. Jake and I dove in and punched and kicked and pulled all sorts of made-up wrestling moves until she as free then we swam like screaming maniacs back to shore, with Lauren cheering and pointing out an in-coming whale.
We rolled ashore just in time where we sprawled and laughed, wiping water from out faces, pretending to be out of breath. While I sat on the sand with elbows on propped knees, Lauren led in selecting and plucking surfboards from the trees, creative with sizes and designs. Made me smile. And then she gasped and said with a Disney Channel smile, “They’re MAGIC surfboards.” I threw my head back and did that whole-body laugh (Yes!).
(Hey, our ice ship was destroyed by a penguin, we fought orcas with Jolly Rancher guns and lost. Magic surfboards? Absolutely acceptable.)
On magic surfboards we surfed like speedboats out of there, leaving Freddy and his henchmen in our bubbles (because we had to wrap it up, the kids’ swim practice was about to start).
P.S. They’re part of my motivation to publish stories. To give ’em permission to wear a goofy 10-year-old’s grin at any age by putting a familiar and yet completely new story in their hand.
(I’m a time warp. Nearly in college Jake is now over 6’0″ and Lauren is 5’6″ – I’m 5’4″ and still appear fresh out of high school, wielding the same relentless optimism and a version of our family’s brand of ridiculousness. A nearly exact figure from their past, still here to back ’em up, to not only point out the silver lining but show ’em how to paint it. With a heaping side order of laughs. I don’t know what aunt that technically is, but that’s the one I always wanna be.)