Flowers and candles: What we tell the children and ourselves


By now you’ve likely seen the video of the French immigrant father with his small son discussing the terrorist attacks in Paris. If you haven’t seen it, many sites have pulled it  because of copyright issues, but you’ll find it here at the 6:22 mark of the video. (For English subtitles click on the CC icon at the bottom of the video screen, and select English.)

I’d also encourage you to watch the clip right before this sweet father and son, starting around the 4:30 mark. In that part of the video, a French Muslim girl and her mother talk about their reactions. The mother says, “We must be humans and not barbarians.”

The young girl smiles bravely and says she’ll try not to have nightmares. The little boy lets a relieved smile creep across his face as he looks from his father to the flowers and candles. “C’est pour protégé?” he asks. This is for protection? The expressions of both the girl and the boy fill my eyes with tears and my heart with hope.

What do we tell our children and ourselves in times of darkness, when we hear reports of jihadis hoping to spark an apocalyptic war? How do we comfort our children when they see adult fears threatening to overcome our sense of compassion and our common humanity?

Perhaps the French father is on to something that could comfort us all. The candles and the flowers will protect us—not literally from the guns, of course—but because they suggest a willingness and a desire to let goodness rise up, to cause goodness to triumph over the evil.

I don’t know enough of other religions to speak of them, but Christians believe in the capital L Light that triumphs over darkness: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5).

There is light and there is darkness in this fallen world of ours. The light is stronger, and the Light will protect us. Perhaps not in the ways we expect or hope or imagine. But to me, flowers and candles are a good start.

This past Sunday, I attended a prayer service at the Episcopal church I’ve been visiting. I’d like to leave you with the evening prayer that we spoke together at the end of the service. May it be an offering of light to you:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

The good aunt and baby showers

A diaper cake at the last baby shower I hosted

When I was interviewing women for this series, I ended with this question: “How many baby showers have you attended?” Maybe this wasn’t a fair question, because I can only give a guesstimate of the number of baby showers I’ve attended (maybe 30 or 40?). I’ve hosted four and attended countless others, including work showers for male co-workers whose wives were having babies.

What I had intended as a light question at the end of the interview turned into some of the most heartfelt remarks during the interviews.

Let me begin with their initial responses from each, categorized by the women’s ages (by decade): Continue reading

The good aunt and sticky friendships

Please forgive the later-than-usual post today. I was spending time with a dear friend and her family earlier today and then came home to find sugar ants all over my kitchen counter. A war ensued, and though I’ve left the kitchen and moved to my home office, ants keep crawling down my arms (so please also forgive any typos – crawling critters make me spastic).

Anyway, what I really want to share with you today is a call to take up arms in a different sort of battle: a battle for stronger friendships.

Yesterday’s New York Times published an intriguing article about why it’s so difficult to form friendships after the age of 30 (Thanks to Enuma Okoro for calling this article to my attention – she’s one of those amazing “people magnets” that I’ll speak of in a moment). The article points out that college is one of the last times most of us have an easy time creating deep friendships.

Now I know there are some of you out there well past college age who have absolutely no trouble making friends. Some of you have the sort of personality that draws people to you with little effort on your part. I’m friends with a few of you, and you “people magnets” can go read some other blog if you like.

But for those of you who have drifted away from more friends than you care to admit, I challenge you: decide which ones mean enough to you to make a true effort at rekindling the friendship. For those of you who have met someone you think could be a friend but haven’t quite connected with, follow the article’s implicit advice: ask that person to meet you for coffee, even if you have to schedule the date for several weeks from now.

You may be wondering what this has to do with good aunts. Many of us without children long to be not only good aunts to the children in our lives, but also good friends with women who have children. You might be surprised by how difficult this can be, especially for women in their thirties and forties, during prime child-rearing years.

Continue reading

The best and worst thing

Several of the women I interviewed spoke of relief after becoming an aunt, because it provided their parents (or in-laws) with grandchildren and took some of the pressure off of the women themselves to provide more grandchildren.

As aunts, we have children in our lives we can adore, spoil, teach, play with and watch grow into who they will become as adults. Aunthood also gives us a closer insight into how children change a marriage.

The advice: The best and worst thing
One of the women I interviewed, Bette*, told me about a conversation her husband Caleb had with his boss – who also happened to be a close friend and the father of grown twins – when Bette and Caleb were trying to decide whether to have children.

Caleb asked, “What advice would you give to somebody who’s trying to make this decision?”  His boss told him that having children is both the best and worst thing that could ever happen, simultaneously.

He said it’s the best thing because your capacity to love is multiplied, and you love these children more than you ever thought you could, and it enriches your life. On the other hand, it also completely changes your life. Your marriage changes. You don’t have time for former pursuits. Your priorities are different. When you’re in it, you’re glad your priorities are these children, but everything else suffers because of your shift in priorities. He finished by saying, “I’m not saying it’s not a worthwhile priority. Again, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me, but it’s also the worst thing.”

Bette said she and Caleb thought about that statement, “It’s the best and worst thing,” and turned it around and said perhaps not having children is also the best and the worst thing that would ever happen to them.

For them, it is the best because they have time and energy to focus on each other and their marriage. They travel extensively, and do plenty of other things they wouldn’t consider if they had children. Plus, they are able to be more involved in the lives of their extended family than they might otherwise be.

In this case, you really can’t have it all
Bette admits, though, that she just won’t ever fully know. She says she feels like she gets a glimpse of the best part of having children because of how much she loves her nieces and nephews, but she knows she’ll never know exactly what she has missed out on.

She says, “You can’t always have it all, and I have come to the realization in my life that I have the best of both worlds. If I didn’t have nieces and nephews, maybe I would feel differently. Maybe I would feel like there was something else that I was missing. But to hear a parent say that having children is simultaneously the best and worst thing that has ever happened was a turning point for us. I flip that idea around and think, ‘Maybe that’s me, too, just from a different perspective.’ ”

Whether you have children or not, I’d love to know what you think of this perspective: that either way – having children or not having children – it’s simultaneously the best and the worst thing that can happen.

* To protect the privacy of the women I interviewed, I have changed all names.

The dreaded follow-up question

Before I dive in to today’s installment of “The Good Aunt” series, let me take a moment to thank all of you who have served your country and made sacrifices to keep us all safe and free. There are men and women throughout the history of this country who have sacrificed their futures (including some who never had the opportunity to have families) so that others’ futures would be enriched. I am humbly grateful for what you have given this country.

A Memorial Day thanks to all who sacrificed their dreams and futures to keep us safe

The expected question
“Do you have children?” For those of us good aunts (and uncles, too) who do not have children, we know that the first question is coming. It’s one we ask those we meet, and we expect it to be asked of us, too. This question is not a big problem, though for men and women trying desperately to have children, even this question can cause a jab of pain.

But that first question is one we all accept. It’s part of the “get-to-know-you” package of questions that anyone of a certain age gets asked: Where are you from? Where do you work? Are you married? Do you have children? Continue reading