There are a lot of things I don’t give my kids. Frozen food (other than ice cream, of course), cereal that turns your milk different colors, gum (I have a recurring nightmare about gum getting stuck in thick, little girl hair), and their own way when one or the other of them is having a fit.

There are also a lot of things I do give my kids. An excessive amount of hugs and kisses, a rear-end tightening when needed, and pancakes on Sunday mornings before Mass.

They know they’re loved. They know they’re special. And I don’t mean special in that “you’re better than someone else” kind of way that seems to pervade our society these days. But special in the “God created you and nobody else is the same you as you” kind of way that I believe every kid needs to hear and believe. That every kid deserves to hear and believe.

Which brings me to the thing I can’t give my kids. Something that I had. Something that is not necessarily vital, but I’d argue that is invaluable. And my inability to provide this to my sweeties niggles away in the back of my mind like a jagged fingernail. Not painful, not something I think about all the time, but it’s there waiting to be noticed. Waiting to catch on something.

Last June, my brother was ordained into the priesthood. Family members came to North Carolina from Michigan to support him and celebrate. My aunt was one of those family members. Watching her with my kids was incredibly heart-warming. She’s a warm, generous person, easy to love and even easier to be loved by. She’d never met two of my children and hadn’t seen my oldest, The Professor, since he was baby. All three kids basked in her love and attention. It warmed my heart and made it ache all at once.

When I was growing up, this same aunt (my mom’s older sister) always made me feel special. She didn’t do BIG things. Rather, she let me know in dozens of little ways that she loved me. That I mattered. I think aunts have the ability to do this in a way no one else can.

I was a picky eater. Okay, I still am. I am 43-years-old and I still hate green vegetables. I am also VERY weird about certain textures. The mere thought of orange juice with pulp makes me retch. There. I said it. :) So you can see that being my mother had its challenging moments where food was concerned.

Food was – and is – a big thing in our family. It was the center of our holiday celebrations. You never left a family gathering hungry. Rather, it was far more common to feel a little uncomfortably stuffed – full of home-baked goods and meals prepared with love and a great deal of skill. Yum.

One of the offerings was always a jello salad (I have no idea why, looking back it’s the one thing that seems incongruous). If my mom made the jello salad, it was always chock full of pieces of fruit and sometimes even nuts for crunch. Now, a quick reference to the previous paragraph and my feelings about food textures should tell you how I felt about these salads. Simply writing about it just gave me the shivers.

When my mom hosted these dinners, I passed the jello along to the next person without taking any. But if my aunt hosted, it was different. I still passed the chunky jello salad, but I knew that my aunt would step into her kitchen and come back with a mini jello salad just for me.

The One Thing I Can't Give My Kids

A bowl of gloriously plain, smooth, non-chunky or crunchy jello. My mom would roll her eyes and tell my aunt she was spoiling me. My aunt would ignore her and give me a kiss on the head.

The jello isn’t actually the point of this story. It was what the jello represented. It said I was worth the fuss. I was thought of. My aunt loved me enough to do little things – a hundred little things – just for me. Aunts have the ability to “spoil” without actually spoiling. Moms have to say no – and should say no – to things every day. Aunts get to say yes. Aunts make us feel special.

This brings me back to what I can’t give my kids. Our family is small. As I mentioned, my brother – my only sibling – became a priest. As a priest, he will never marry or have children. My husband’s brother – and only sibling – is deceased. My kids have two sets of grandparents and an uncle. It’s a pretty small bunch J They are loved. Oh, how they’re loved by us all, small in number though we may be. But they miss out on that special brand of love that only aunts can give.

So if at times I turn myself inside-out and upside-down to do little extra things to make my beans feel special, it’s because I’m trying to be their aunt as well as their mommy. Trying to give them that big feeling of being loved and that little feeling of being fussed over just because. Just because they’re who they are.

If your kids have what I call an aunt with a capital “A” or if you are such an aunt, take a minute to be thankful. Thankful for that special relationship that you’ve been given. Thankful for that very special brand of love that’s as close to mother love as you can get with a splash of friendship thrown in for good measure.

What “little things” do you do for nieces or nephews – or any other child close to you -- to make them feel special?

Copyright 2014, Marilee Haynes

The sequel to Marilee's a.k.a. Genius from Pauline Teen is now available! Genius Under Construction (available soon from Amazon) continues the story of 13-year-old confused genius and Catholic middle school student Gabe Carpenter. (These links are affiliate links: purchasing using them supports the work we do here at