When my husband and I were dating, we had a conversation about the importance of children knowing adults outside of their parents who they could trust. Up until that point, I had not thought about it in those terms, but once he said it, it made perfect sense. Of course kids need a person who is cool enough to model themselves after, but also responsible in a way that will lead them down the right path. For me, that person was and is my Aunt Lee Anne.
When I became an aunt myself, I knew exactly the type I wanted to be. I would be the aunt that took the kids to do fun things. Their parents might not know of the hip pizzeria with the play castle in the back, but I did. I’d host sleepovers at my house where we’d plaster our faces in makeup, watch dance movies, and eat nothing but junk food. At family gatherings, I’d run around playing tag with the kids instead of visiting with the adults. I didn’t just waltz into being a good aunt. I learned from the best.
In the second grade, my grandmother took my sister and I on a roadtrip to visit Lee Anne. She lived in Wyoming. Now, Wyoming probably does not sound like the most glamorous place to visit, but I had never been out of state. I was ripe for adventure and Wyoming might very well be the Hollywood in my naive, hayseed mind .
After a long and boring drive that I did my best to sleep through, we arrived at my aunt’s apartment. I don’t remember much about it, other than the closet. It was the size of a room- something I had never seen before. The closet was lined on every side with clothes. Not just boring jeans and sweaters, but pink suede boots and a white leather jacket. To an eight year old girl, it appeared that an entire mall was stuffed into that closet. I wanted to throw all the garments on the floor and dive head first into them.
That night, she took us out for Chinese food. I had never had it before. I grew up on dishes like my mom’s infamous Potato Tomato Casserole (“you like potatoes, you like tomatoes, you should like this!”) The first bite of beef and broccoli flooded my mouth with rich flavor. The food was delicious, but I also felt mature sitting at a table of grown women that did not include my mother. I was treated as their peer, not a little girl.
The trip solidified my aunt’s rock star status in my mind. I’m sure she was leading a very average life for a twenty something- working, paying rent, hanging out with friends. But in my mind, she was a gorgeous ingénue in expensive clothes, eating exotic cuisine, and doing whatever she wanted. I longed to be just like her.
When I was a bit older, I began working in the summer, primarily so I could buy clothes for school. I only saw my aunt once or twice a year, but whenever I did, we would do something special. On one occasion, we went shopping at Fashion Bar. I had already blown my whole paycheck, and didn’t have money to buy clothes. She could have bought an outfit for me, but she actually did something better.
I was fixated on a pair of beige suede boots, much like the pink ones I had admired in her closet years before. She saw me staring at them, and said “If you promise to mail me the money, I’ll put them on my credit card for you.”
It meant more to me that she trusted me to repay her than to just outright buy the boots. In my eyes, it meant she saw me as an adult and that she trusted me. I had always admired that she didn’t need a man to support her. She took care of herself. Loaning me the money to buy the boots showed me that she respected I could take care of myself too.
A couple of years ago, my mom and I were walking in the Race for the Cure. My nieces and nephew decided to join us. It became a family affair, and Lee Anne drove down from Wyoming to walk with us. She was on limited time. She could walk with us, eat breakfast, and then she had to hit the road.
During the race, she held hands with my nieces and chased my nephew through the crowds of people. She still has the energy of a twenty year old. I believe she crossed the finished line with two kids on each side.
Lee Anne has a knack for showing up with gifts for the kids. Not just any gifts, but perfect gifts. Presents I would have thought were dorky, but somehow always strike the right note with my nieces and nephews. On this occasion, she brought Wildlife Bingo. You read that right. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t. The kids loved learning the facts about the different animals. At breakfast, they asked to play it again and again.
When we finished breakfast and it was time for her to leave, my niece, Allie, started crying. She tearfully proclaimed “I don’t want you to go!” Then all the kids started crying and hugging her. I jokingly said “hey, what about me?” They tried to humor me, but I knew I was second fiddle. You just can’t top the queen.
Today, Lee Anne and my mom babysat my boys so that I could go for a run. When I returned, Liam saw me. Instead of running into my arms he said “No! No! I’m not ready for you yet.” Anyone else, and it might have hurt my feelings a little bit. But I totally understood. I wanted him to take a nap, so I could hang out with her too.