Do you remember me telling you that my sister was pregnant? You might not—you are generous enough to accept that I consider you family, but that doesn’t mean you consider my family to be yours, and lots of people have babies. But I remember—I said “I have news!” and you said “you’re pregnant!” and I said “no, my sister is.” In any case, she is no longer pregnant; my nephew is here.
I’m not sure a nephew is normally such a big deal. It’s not like he’s my son. But in a way, he is the son of the entire family; he is the first of his generation on either side, and in some sense it is the families, not simply his parents, who have procreated. Then, too, since my husband and I are leaning towards adoption, my nephew may be the closest thing I get, genetically, to a son.
Not like adopted relatives are not real; I’ve adopted you, after all, and though I feel silly for it sometimes, I regard that as quite real. And I have an unofficially adopted son—he doesn’t know that’s what he is, but he doesn’t have to. I imagine that a legal adoption would seem at least as real, that I could say “my son” as genuinely as my sister can.
It is my sister’s child whose face I search for evidence of my own features. He is another example of what we are, a further elaboration on our identity as a family. I’m glad there is at least one of these.
You have no nieces or nephews, and never can have any, not having any siblings--though you adopt people, too, I've seen you. I've seen how your face softens when you speak of this or that person. You navigate this territory, too.
So I am an aunt, and my husband is an uncle--first time for both of us. He didn’t really seem interested in the baby at first, maybe because on some level he didn’t realize this is his nephew, too. We’re newlyweds, and the concept of us actually being married is a bit hard for us to wrap our heads around sometimes. But now he's talking about baby presents. Today he found a handmade wooden rocking cradle in an antique store and bought it. He has plans to do some minor repairs before presenting it, and has sent multiple pictures, so I think he's getting into this. When my husband is engaged, he works with objects; he buys things, makes things, fixes them. He shows up for service.
My sister and I have been getting along better since she's been pregnant. The baby gives us something we can talk, but I still feel awkward around her. So I show up for service, too a. This past year, whenever I've been in town I've put in a few hours at whatever she’s needed me to do. This time, I've washed walls, scrubbed the sink, done dishes, bought gauze pads. It's what I can do. It's what I can offer.
I have decided to make my nephew’s first Christmas ornament. Children in our family get an ornament every year, but the first one is engraved. Mine is a little brass angel with a bell hanging from its praying hands, with my name and the year. I always feel special when I see it. So I want to make him one. I've settled on cutting a thin cookie of wood from an oak branch that fell in our yard, sanding it, and painting or burning it with an image of the Little Drummer Boy. First, I pick that figure to honor my nephew’s maleness in a mostly female family, and second because I've always loved the song.
I consider the little drummer boy an excellent role-model; you don't have enough to give, or the right kind of thing to give, certainly not to anyone as important as God--or anyone as important as a baby. There’s this basic helplessness and impotence. But there is the baby God, and you've got to do something, so you do this completely inappropriate, silly thing, because it's the only thing you can do; you play your drum. And so you do it the best you can--and it's exactly right. And the little baby God smiles at you, you and your drum, because you're perfect, and you have exactly what he needs from you, and it's perfect. I cry every time I think of it, really I do.