The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

Who’s your special Aunt?

on October 23, 2013

I love being an Aunt to the proper and nearly nephews and nieces but what can be more telling of your own age than when the young people in your life reach a milestone birthday? I guess to them we have always been really, really old but don’t worry, their day will come.

Just last week my nearly niece Strawberry Mousse celebrated her 21st Birthday in much the same vein as Mrs Imperturbable did with five days of celebrations. There was Go-Karting, family lunches, a big night out clubbing (that produced a rather alarming video clip of her ‘rapping’), a romantic dinner and family dim sum gathering. It’s yet another Big Life Event that I’ve missed out on whilst living this expat life but that’s by the by.

Strawberry Mousse is the youngest of three siblings and whilst I have watched all three grow up, I was 18 when she was born and only eight and nine when the other two arrived so I was much more hands on in everything with her. Perhaps it’s because I left for University before Strawberry Mousse was even a year old that helped my presence in her life remain a novelty. I missed her very much in those early days; she was a lovely, cute and happy baby and as far as I can tell she is a beautiful, funny and happy young lady now.

When you only see the young people sporadically, it’s always the fun stuff you do and so I hardly ever saw the tantrums with Strawberry Mousse. Perhaps the most noticeable one was when I was celebrating my own 21st Birthday with a few friends who came to visit and she refused to acknowledge them. Choosing instead to sit with her back to them, she was only two. Whenever I came back in the holidays and then later just for the weekend, she would insist I share her room, even if it meant she had to sleep on the floor.


When I was just 20 years old, I was entrusted with the care of our Dazzler aged 11, and our Emilo aged 10, to take them to London for a few days holiday. All the way from Newcastle Upon Tyne up north to all the way to the capital of England, London down south. BY MYSELF! I know! What on earth were the parents thinking? I suppose I ought to feel flattered they considered me so responsible. Then when I suggested that Strawberry Mousse came to stay for a summer holiday when she was nine and I was 28 and had been living in London for a few years, they had to think about it! Maybe I had become less responsible by then?

It’s great being the Aunt who takes the nephews and nieces out for day trips, or have them to stay, show them new experiences they haven’t had with their parents and generally give them a happy time. You get all the adoration of a small child who revels in being in your company. It’s a big compliment to see someone’s face light up when they see you. To be able to raise their spirits and in turn your own.

It’s also very easy being an Aunt to small children. Their expectations of you are thankfully quite low. A trip to the pictures with a bucket of popcorn would have them thoroughly satisfied. It’s when they are pre grown ups that things become trickier. They grow up at an alarming rate and disproportionately faster than we do. That transition from being Aunt to cute and cuddly niece and nephew to people who are the same height or taller than you can be tough. They have things called boyfriends and girlfriends, they shop in the same shops as you, they communicate monosyllabicly, they stop washing, they sleep in the afternoon fully clothed, everything you suggest is met with no enthusiasm. Who are these people? Where has the fun gone?

You may be fortunate enough to see your own nephews and nieces on a regular basis but if you aren’t, it can be quite a shock to notice they have grown another few inches in your absence, it can be difficult finding your feet with them. My two nephews have always lived in Hong Kong, I’ve seen nephew #2 on four occasions and he’s nine years old. It’s only natural that it feels like I’m his Aunt in name only because we hardly know each other, you need to be visible in order for relationships with young people to work. That’s not to say it will always be like this. Nephew #1 went to study in the UK when he was 12 and we have still been able to build a good relationship. I still remember the first time at age nine, he saw a real cow and then wanted to eat steak afterwards. As they get older you have to try harder in engaging them and at times they may not be interested because they’ve reached that age where they have the freedom to explore the world by themselves and what do we know about having fun?

Sometimes though, they can surprise themselves and find that you do have something in common. Be it a band, television show, shoes, bags, books, sports, a love of the outdoors. There is always something. For my part, I need to let go and see them for the adults they have become. All bar one are in their twenties. Some are living away from home, some are Graduates and doing post graduate degrees, some are forging interesting careers for themselves. All of them are young people I am extremely proud of and now it’s their turn to be the fun one with #1, 2 and 3.

Now I say I’ve been ‘fun’ Aunt but I’m sure all of them will have their own mortifying tale to tell of how I’m actually the embarrassing one. (Can you believe that one of the boyfriends calls me The Interrogator?) The latest incident I believe is when nearly nephew came to stay last year when I was still preggers with #3. We were in a car park when some nob decides to park in the family lot. Spurred on by hormones, I let rip at him for his lack of consideration at parking there with no small child in tow and shouldn’t he move his car and so on. Meanwhile our Dazzler remains inside the car, trying to distance himself from the whole scene. I call this payback for the time I had to go to his school and deal with the teacher’s letter concerning his wiping of bogies on the school banisters.


Before the arrival of #1, I figured that I’d spent a lot of time around babies and young children, even looked after many of them by myself at various ages, so how different could it be looking after my own? Well I don’t think I need to answer this for you to know how naive I was.

Who’s my special aunt? I have several in fact. There’s my Dad’s youngest sister who dedicated herself to looking after my Grandma during her last few years in a nursing home, travelling almost two hours each way every other day to keep her company and look after her. Tradition can be comforting but also cruel at times; a few days after my Grandma passed away, so did my uncle and if you follow strict Chinese tradition like my Aunt does then you can only mourn the loss of a direct family member which meant a daughter could not attend her own mother’s funeral whilst tending to her own husband. It’s because in effect she had married out of the family. It’s not something I understand or would do myself but it’s something I have to respect.

Then there’s my Aunt by marriage, always the one known for being ‘modern’ because she smoked in her younger years and that was considered way out there in Chinese culture. Her eldest of my four cousins, is only five months younger than me but he milks those five months when I’m older than him by a whole year for all it’s worth and I see him as my Lil Bro. This Aunt has always been very good to me. So even though she is now divorced from my wayward Uncle, she remains to me that same Aunt as before.

I have a maternal Aunt who is the kind of Aunt everyone should have. Kind, cuddly, always smiling and laughing. You feel safe and warm with her, she really looks after you and is constantly asking if you need anything to eat. She’s the kind of aunt who has no regard for what age you are or whether you are a parent yourself, you’re still that small child she looked after.

Then finally, I have an Aunt who raised me like her own from when I was the age of three and who I am very proud to call my Mum and I don’t think I need to say anything more than that.



2 responses to “Who’s your special Aunt?

  1. Caroline Shanghai says:

    Fabulous article as always Ms Li xx


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