Congratulations to me: I am now an aunt. On March 18th of this year, my brother and sister-in-law had their first child, who they immediately started to mess with by naming Boden Kodiak Medow.
In my head, I call him Bodie Kodie.
Boden is the new love of my life. Certain that I will never ever ever want to get pregnant or have babies myself ever ever again, I am delighted that others in my family want to do this for me. My plan is that they will do all the heavy lifting so that I can do much of the holding.
My plan has gone according to plan, because holding Boden is exactly what I did for the better part of a week at the end of April. I got on a plane to San Francisco and left Brett in charge of our 6 and 10 year olds so that I could change diapers and stay up half the night with my newborn nephew.
Except that my sister-in-law, Ursula, had slightly different plans for Boden and me. She is trying to train Boden to sleep without being held, and to learn to self-soothe in the crib. I believe in self-soothing, really I do. The ability to dig deep and find inner peace is a great skill to have when you are fired from a job or when you get a bikini wax. But it is not something I think a 5-week-old baby needs to master. Don’t get me wrong; I know how desperate new moms are for some peace and quiet, having been one myself. But since then, I’ve trained two kids to sleep and pee and poop at the right times and in the right places and so I know it all works out fine in about five years.
Which is why I held Boden a lot. Perhaps even a bit more than his mommy wanted me to. I held him when Ursula took a shower, and when she did some laundry, and while she mixed his bottles. I held him through an entire “I Love Lucy” marathon on The Hallmark channel, which reminded me how much Brett and I are like Lucy and Ricky and how much I like holding sleeping babies. Boden and I also watched a bunch of “Friends” episodes as well as some great “Barefoot Contessa” shows, in which Ina Garten throws small dinner parties for her friends in the Hamptons.
What a perfect vacation. Watching as much television as you want and not feeling guilty about it – while you snuggle with a cooing relative that doesn’t resent you yet for anything – is a lovely escape from the real world.
The other great thing about babies is that they love to be sung to, and I love to sing. It’s the ideal relationship, a natural yin and yang. Many times, after Boden had his bottle and was burped, I would get down to the serious business of rocking him to sleep with a song or twelve. At first, I was shy, softly murmuring “Hush Little Baby” and “Leaving On A Jet Plane,” two of my own children’s favorites, while holding him in his bedroom. But by day three, I got bolder, breaking out the show tunes and moving into the public space of the living room.
You need to know this about me: before I was a teacher and a mom and a writer, I was a musical theater actress. My love of acting out dramatic renditions of musical numbers began the moment I saw the movie “Grease” at the age of 8. My mother bought me the record, and I listened to it over and over again until I was Sandy. At least once a week, I would have a playdate with my friend Lisa who was forced to play Danny Zuko to my Sandy, no taking turns, no backsies. My reasoning for this was that Lisa was dark haired like Danny and I was light like Sandy. Plus, she was an alto and I a soprano. Also, it was my house.
Eventually, I grew less bossy, but never less passionate about musical theater. Due to a wonderful lack of judgment on my mother’s part, I saw “A Chorus Line” on Broadway when I was about nine and had memorized the entire original cast recording of “Hair” by the time I was 10. She wouldn’t let me see the movie because of the brief nudity, but I was allowed to listen to all the dirty words and sing along with gusto.
At Edgemont High School, I enjoyed a career as a musical theater gleek, beginning with, poetically enough, the role of Jan in “Grease” in the 9thgrade. Travelling to and attending competitions with the chorus and the a capella choir are some of my fondest memories of high school. And on Saturday nights, there was nothing my friends and I liked better than to break into four-part harmony while gathered around a keg in someone’s backyard. (This sounds a lot uncooler than it was.)
Lucky for me, my nephew Boden apparently loves a good show tune, because I am in possession of a lot of them. When he was particularly fussy, I sang over his cries with jazzy renditions of “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” and “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat.” Both of these gave me ample opportunity for dramatic stomping and swaying. I highly recommend them if you are ever in the company of an ill-tempered infant.
Oh, we had fun, Boden and I. We worked our way from Gershwin to Rodgers and Hammerstein and Rodgers and Hart. We hit Andrew Lloyd Webber hard, got political with Le Miserables (because what child doesn’t find “Castle on a Cloud” performed with a faux-British accent soothing, I ask you), and then moved on to “Rent” and “Wicked.” Following my mother’s good example, I even sang him a few tunes from “The Book of Mormon.”
Thanks to particularly high ceilings and an open floor plan, the acoustics at my brother’s house are fantastic. As my voice raised and my eyes drooped along with Boden’s, I imagined that we were in Carnegie Hall together, or perhaps in the EHS auditorium. At the very least, we were in Tamir’s backyard with a case of beer and the entire winning team of late-1980’s Madrigals.
“Aunt Julie to the rescue!” Ursula said as I coaxed Boden through the witching hour of 6-7 pm. What she was probably really thinking was, She’s a little off key. What day is she going home, again? And, Boden, calming down finally, was probably thinking, I can feel Jean Valjean’s pain like I feel the wetness in my diaper.
I cried when I left, I won’t lie.
On the security line at the airport, I noticed a group of teenage girls….singing. I detected a high school choir in my midst. Sure enough, Vocal Color, one of the top 5 all-female, a capella groups in the nation, was on my flight, headed to New York City for a competition. When we landed safely on the other side of the country, they broke into song.
And I sang along. Because I was grateful to have been welcome in my brother’s and sister-in-law’s home during such a special time in their lives. And because I hoped Boden’s brain would keep an imprint of me on it, as this crazy singing woman who loves him so much. And because, whether I’m happy to be an aunt or excited to be returning home to my own children, I am always filled with glee.