Life Face First: Negotiating One Calamity at a Time: Auntly Duties



Parents don’t realize the culture shock nonparents are subjected to when they encounter other peoples’ children.

I experienced one such shock recently, courtesy of my five-year-old niece.

My husband Brian and I have been married for thirteen years. We do not have children of our own, and I was ripe for a calamity.

It all started because of gymnastics. My eldest niece, Callie, is an avid gymnast, and Brian and I traveled to a nearby town to join our family and watch her compete in a gymnastics meet.

After several hours of being wedged between Brian and my sister, foolish woman that I am, I agreed to take my youngest niece Nicole for a walk around the event center.

Our walk started out well enough. It was when I had the brilliant idea to visit the restroom that things became very awkward for an old-nonparent like me.

Nicole assured me she could manage in a stall all by herself. Relieved that my auntly-duties didn’t require more of me, I took the stall next to her.

“Boy, Aunt Nora,” she said loudly, “You really had to go.”

I could hear the sniggers of other adults in the bathroom.

“Yes, Nicole,” I replied dryly and willed those laughing to choke on their giggles.

“I’m going to the potty all by myself,” she told me proudly.

“Yes, yes, very good.” I tried to hush her telepathically and tried harder to ignore the laughter that was steadily growing.

“Oh, no!” she suddenly shouted. “I’ve got to go number two!”

I failed to see the emergency, but prayed fervently that she would stop talking. The upside is the laughter died down. Either they’d fled at this announcement, or my wish of their imminent demise had been fulfilled by a benevolent genie.

“It’s too big!” She persisted so loudly that I was sure she could be heard three rooms away, over the blaring music accompanying a gymnast’s floor routine.

“You have to help me!” She wailed in a three-alarm call of distress.

Nope. My duties as an aunt don’t go that far.

“Never mind,” she suddenly announced in conjunction with the telltale sound that her “business” was concluded.

I cannot describe my relief. She’d conquered this battle all on her own without so much as moral support from me. Better still, we could get out of that bathroom!

We fled to our seats, me with a red face and Nicole calmly, as though nothing embarrassing had just happened. I related the experience to my sister.

“Eh,” she shrugged when I expressed my horror over the mortifying experience.

She failed to see my embarrassment. She was just glad Nicole had willingly agreed to use the bathroom. As far as she was concerned, it was potty training progress.

“That’s one thing kids and the childless have in common,” I thought, “Parents will never understand our struggle!”

Nora Blithe

Nora Blithe is the author of the syndicated humor column “Life Face First.” Read her blog online at or contact her at