Like any doting aunt, I love my nieces. In my eyes they are perfect. If they have flaws of character, make poor decisions, or do wrong, it is not for me to see. That is the job of their parents. My job is to love them blindly. And I do. I can’t help myself. Not having children of my own, these girls are the light of my life. So when someone says to me, “Oh, so they’re not your real nieces,” after I’ve explained our unique family tree, it’s like shoving a dagger in my heart.
I’ve known since I was a teenager that my older sister is a lesbian. Actually, if I think about it, I’ve probably known my entire life but didn’t have a word for it. She was just Jodi. She was tough. She had swagger. She was cool. I was the opposite. Small. Sickly. Scared of my own shadow. On more than one occasion, Jodi came to my rescue fighting any bully who dared to pick on her little sister. In the chaos of our home, my big sister was my rock.
I guess in my mind, and maybe even hers, it was assumed because she was gay, Jodi would never have children. My sister isn’t just kind of gay. She’s really super extra gay. I would have an easier time imaging Jason Statham getting knocked up before I could see my sister having a baby. That was my own limited thinking, ignorant in the idea that there is only one way to become a mother.
When my sister announced that she and her partner at the time were going to have a child through artificial insemination, I was shocked. Not because of artificial insemination. Not because I was against gays and lesbians having children. I was shocked because I didn’t think my sister wanted kids. Hell, I didn’t even think she liked kids.
They decided that my sister’s partner would carry the baby and after a few unsuccessful attempts were finally blessed with Hannah. From the moment she was born, a light turned on in my sister. Yes, she was still her same tough self, but there was a softness to her that emerged that I can only describe as the purest form of love. It is the same light that is ignited in every parent when they first see their child.
As many relationships do, hers fell apart. The why’s and how’s are unimportant. This is life and it happens to everyone. What doesn’t always happen is that parents don’t lose their rights to their child simply because the relationship dissolves. Hannah was three years old when Jodi moved out of their home but she never, not once, let go of her child. She was a mother and a mother never stops fighting for her kids. It was years of costly and stressful courtroom battles to get the law to recognize that she was a full and equal parent.
After the end of her previous relationship, Jodi met the true love of her life, Jenn, who had also had a child, Camryn. The girls are a year apart in age and I doubt they can even remember a time in their lives when they were not together. They are sisters. They have always been sisters. I watch them now and I can’t help but notice the similarities in their relationship to the relationship I had with Jodi. Hannah is older. She is strong, athletic, and stands up for the underdog. She has a deep sense of what is right and what is wrong and she is not afraid to tell you. She is a natural leader with a quiet confidence. I see so much of my big sister in Hannah. Camryn lives in her own world, nose buried in a book just as I was at her age. She’s sensitive, always looking at the world from a different angle, seeing things that maybe the rest of us miss. She loves big, and has a compassion for others that is breathtaking. She has a lot of her mother in her, but I’d like to think there’s a little of me there too.
Jodi, Jenn, Hannah and Camryn are my family. They are my real family. I don’t care if it confuses other people. I don’t care if they have a need to understand what body part went where to make this family. I don’t care about DNA. All I care about when I see my nieces is that they are perfect angels of light. Am I delusional? Of course I am. I am an aunt and that’s my job.