What’s in a Name?
has an M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language and has completed all the coursework for a Ph.D. in American Literature
Meredith Heath, aunt to nephews A, B, and C, erstwhile graduate student, and coffee master extraordinaire, writes about her feelings of loss during a period of transition in the lives of her nephews. An avid aunt for nearly six years and surrogate aunt to countless (no, really) other nieces and nephews, Meredith spends much of her free time with “the babies.” When not playing with the little ones or serving a hot cup o’ Joe at the local coffee shop, Meredith can be found researching family history, reading texts from the literary canon she missed during ten years of college, and wrangling ideas about how to return to graduate school without paying for tuition.
Growing up, my younger sister and brother called me “Sissy.” While not problematic when I was 6, I recognized other connotations of the term as I came of age and worked valiantly to thwart its use by my siblings. After all, it indicated, in terms of dictionary definitions, “an effeminate boy or man, a timid or cowardly person, [or] a little girl.” When I was a kid, I fit the latter two definitions, but surely there was no need to perpetuate the stereotype. My sister eventually complied; my little brother shortened it to “Sis.” Much better, far more sisterly than cowardly.
So when “Aunt Sissy” was suggested as my name for my nephews, I bucked. I have video evidence: in the hospital waiting room the day my oldest nephew was born, I filmed everyone waiting for his arrival and announced my own presence with, “Well, this is your Aunt…Sissy. We’ll see about that, kid.” Ten minutes later, arms open wide, it was “Come see Aunt Sissy!” Oh, good heavens, I’m such a sucker.
Over the years, I’ve haggled my oldest nephew by telling him that, since he doesn’t have any older siblings, he gets me instead. I’ll help keep the little booger in check so that he doesn’t get too big for his britches. I had older cousins—sorry, kiddo, your mama had babies before I did! No big cousins for you! I vividly remember the first time both he and his next oldest brother first said “Sissy.” Of course, Mama and Daddy get first dibs on being one of the babies’ first words, but Sissy fit into, say, the first 100. In their sweet little voices, Sissy no longer sounded silly or wussy: it was endearing and significant. It indicated a role of singular importance in their lives that couldn’t be met by anyone else.
As our boys grew a little, we noticed that the youngest of the three wasn’t talking nearly as much as the older children his age. The pediatrician had mentioned that sometimes boys may not start talking as early as girls and that youngest children may develop speech later than their older siblings since parents will anticipate their needs and the older children may communicate on their behalf. Even so, by the time Little Bit’s 3rd birthday rolled around, we knew it was time to intervene, and so last fall he entered a pre-K3 program at the local elementary school. Now, he has the benefit of speech therapy.
In the months that have followed, I have lost count of how many times I’ve tried to coax him into calling me by name. I’ve heard him say it offhand; I know he can. But when requested, he bats those long eyelashes and grins mischievously, flashing those darn charming dimples. He’s toying with me. Seriously. He’s 3! I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. Err…aunt.
A little less than a month ago, my three little men had to spend 17 hours in a van with their mom and me on a road trip, and so I decided to give it another go—there was no escape now! To my surprise and delight, he blurted out “Sissy!” when asked to repeat my name. But when we would point to any given individual in the vehicle, he would identify every other person…except me. Same devilish grin—he’d found a new way to beef up his antics.
Next effort. All right, buster, I am ten times your age. I will outsmart you! So, I picked the munchkin up one day while we were out of town and asked him his own name, which he is entirely obsessed with repeating. Then I deftly averted his attention from himself and pointed to myself, asking, “Who is this?” Temporarily overtaken by my wits and cunning, Nephew #3 blurted out “Sissy!” Mission accomplished!
Now he still doesn’t scream “Aunt Sissy’s here!” with his brothers when I show up at their house to visit, but he did identify me the other day when I held him in front of a mirror and asked him who he could see. He pointed to himself first (of course!) and then, unexpectedly, pointed to me and exclaimed, “Sissy!” Now, I just can’t wait until the day he comes running toward me for a big ole hug and cries my name out.
And so they say that with age comes maturity or wisdom, maybe. Well, at my age, I’ve done a complete turnabout in regards to my name. “Sissy” no longer has to indicate my general wariness of new people or situations, scary rides at the fair, snakes, or bridges that cross waterways. It’s a term of endearment forged by relationships with first my sister and brother and now with these three little boys. It points to the special kind of relationship I have with them: part comrade, part confidAunt, part enforcer of Mama’s and Daddy’s rules. Now, let’s just hope they never consider themselves old enough to be ‘too cool’ to call me Aunt Sissy because I might just have to show them just who the boss really is. Ha!
Published: February 5, 2013