Auntie as Lifeline
Written By Savvy Auntie Staff Writers
By Jennifer Iannolo
Jennifer Iannolo is the Founder & CEO of Zenfully Delicious, an international project created to empower women with fibromyalgia to manage their conditions powerfully — and with a sense of indulgent wellness. As a food and wine expert, she was recently featured in the documentary “Eat, Cook, Love,” and her culinary adventures can be found on her award-nominated food and travel site, The Gilded Fork. She is also the auntie to 17 nieces and nephews, whom she refers to as her Rent-a-Kids.
This Christmas is a little bit different. It’s a year where, in the middle of decorating for the holiday, I kept stopping to blow my nose and wipe my tears. I’d start to feel a touch of happiness in a favorite Christmas carol, and my thoughts would suddenly drift to parents whose presents would never be placed under the tree for their children — the parents of Newtown, CT.
I am not a parent, so there is a part of me that cannot fathom that kind of loss. I am human, however, and when I think of my 17 nieces and nephews, I can’t imagine what it would be like not to have one of those smiling faces in front of me, and my brain shuts down if I even try. They are the air that I breathe.
On the day of the shooting, my niece was in a school two miles away from Sandy Hook Elementary, locked down as a precaution. I knew she was out of danger, as the teacher let each child call home. My greater concern, however, was for her aftercare; I knew she must have been scared and worried and that she might need support in the coming days.
It is in this role that as an aunt, I’m in my sweet spot. My Rent-a-Kids know that if there is something they can’t say to their parents, no matter what the reason, they can come to me and say whatever they need to say, no holds barred. I offer them a lifeline because I don’t want them ever to feel hopeless or helpless or unheard. I don’t want them to experience what might look like a dead end — where their alternatives are limited to an act of violence to themselves or others.
And as that lifeline, it is my responsibility to be an extra set of ears and eyes. When I ask them “How are you doing?” or “How are things going?” I’m not following a meaningless pattern of dialogue. Rather, I’m listening for what they aren’t saying. Do they look untroubled and carefree? Or do they look eager to say something and hesitate?
Since I’m not in their daily conversation, I’m sometimes able to pick up on nuances that might elude their parents. At times, it’s the fun of knowing about a new girlfriend or hobby; at other times, it’s knowing there’s a bully at school who needs to be dealt with. It’s in this capacity that I always have a minute or an hour or enough time to just get what they’re saying and get into their world. Sometimes, that’s all they want.
I feel grateful that I can offer this support both to them and their parents. I’m very clear how challenging it is to be a parent, and I love being the “backup” when necessary; that extra set of hands, that additional voice of reason. My role as a mentor in the lives of my Rent-a-Kids is the one I most relish in life, and they know that.
I believe that if we offer more lifelines to our kids, in whatever capacity we can, that we can provide a safety net of ears, so they never feel lost and alone and that no one is listening. It’s in that kind of support that we will create children who have an outlet for their fears, their grief, and their rage.
The most rewarding part of it all? When we’re doing a good job, they’ll tell us. Tonight, in coming up with thoughts for this piece, I asked two of my nephews what they thought I brought to the party as their auntie. First answer: “Happiness!” Second answer: “Someone to look up to.” Third answer: “Someone we can talk to if we can’t talk to our parents.”
Part of me wants to be cheeky and say my work is done here, but my work with them has only just begun.
Now, if every kid had this, would it prevent another school shooting? I don’t know. What I do know is that in my immediate sphere of influence, there are 17 children who can be encouraged to find happiness within and then go share it with the world and create the world as they see fit. I’ll happily take on being the catalyst for that.
How about you?
Published: December 24, 2012