Mistaken Identity

August 1, 2011

I’m often told how adorable my children are.  I always smile and say thank you with just the right indulgent tilt to my head.  But I should probably tell you something.

I don’t have any children.

I have an exuberant amount of nieces and nephews and as of October 8th, I will acquire two more nephews when I marry my to be.  The first time I was told how adorable my children were, I was at Panera with my littlest niece and nephew.  They were sucking yogurt from those little sacks they come in now, and a woman like a poppy in a bed of dandelions swung by our table calling, “Your kids are so cute!”  I waved the perfect Miss America wave and called back, “Thank you!”  My littlest niece and nephew gave me a weird look.  They think Aunt Jess is crazy anyway, so I did not care.

But just this evening, I was once again told how adorable my children are.  Only this time, I was honestly confused for a moment.  I was at a family event with my to be, and none of my nieces and nephews were present.  I can usually understand when I’m mistaken for the mother of one of them as we all look alike.  But when this woman whose name I did not know told me my son was just adorable, I did not know what she was talking about.  I had been looking at snails in the near by lake with my to be’s nephew, who I must add is very blond.  Me being very not blond had a hard time making the connection.  But when it finally clicked, I smiled that smiled, tilted my head, and said, “Thank you.”

Only this time I admitted he was not mine.

The woman reacted with what I would call horror.  I did not know that a case of mistaken identity could cause one so much guilt.  I quickly put my arm around her and told her it was okay.  I would gladly accept the compliment for someone else’s parenting.  And at this she laughed and said, “Well, he is very adorable.”

Being an aunt mistaken for the mother is always a strange and yet somehow pleasing occurrence.  In a couple of years, I will be having my own children, and I have all of the worries that any normal potential parent would have.  Will I be a good mom if I make my child eat brussel sprouts?  Is it okay if I force them to read Shakespeare when they’re in high school and tell them they must like it?  Will my children turn out normal even if their parents are complete and total dorks?  (On a side note, when your Facebook news feed mentions Comi-con in more than one entry, you’re a dork.)  Being complimented on children that are not mine eases these questions for a brief stop in time.

Being an aunt does not come with all these questions.  Being an aunt comes with the smile and the indulgent head tilt and the occasional, “Yeah, aren’t they great?”  But then I give those nieces and nephews back, and I go back to having only myself to worry about and occasionally my to be when he starts sleep walking.  And then the questions will rise up like empty snail shells in a lake that get knocked loose in the current.  They’ll bob along the surface, and you’ll wonder if the shell is really empty or if there is a dead snail inside.

Will I be a good mom?  Will my children turn out normal?

I ate worms as a kid, and my best friend was nicknamed Crocodile, and she was a girl.  I would say out of the gate my children have a better chance at normal than I did.

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