I was having dinner with my friend Gen – the world’s best Aunty – the other day, and she said something that really made me think.  Gen is such a wonderful part of our family – we’ve been best friends for more than 20 years and she spends a lot of time with all four of our children.  

Gen is a schoolteacher, so the last two weeks have been her spring vacation time.  She’s just moved into her own newly-built home and asked if she could have each of the children stay the night – one by one – to spend some time with her.

When Emily (15) stayed over, she and Gen went on a half-day horseback ride, ate pizza, watched movies and talked about boys.  With Dylan (10), she designed and ‘built’ her back garden, pavers and all, ate chicken nuggets and watched Drop Dead Fred.  With Susannah (5), she will go to a strawberry farm to pick their own berries, home to do some fruit-inspired cooking and then travel into the city for a very grown-up birthday dinner.  On Sunday night, she had Charlie (3) stay over.  They walked to the park, played on the swings, ate homemade wholemeal pancakes and watched Sesame Street

World’s Best Aunty indeed.

The night before Charlie’s sleepover, Gen and I were enjoying a chat over some delicious Vietnamese soup when she told me she was nervous at the prospect of having Charlie one-on-one. 

Now, this is not Gen’s first rodeo. 

We’ve done house swaps and babysitting gigs plenty of times.  However, as she explained, on those occasions she’s always had the benefit of at least one of the other children to ‘translate’ Charlie for her.  She was concerned about how she would recognise and meet Charlie’s wants and needs without that help.

I was surprised.  Gen has always been fearless and supremely confident in most situations, and it had never occurred to me that she might be worried about this. 

I think she was even reluctant to tell me for fear that it might hurt my feelings.

  We talked about routines, about Charlie’s favourite things and calming techniques, food allergies and safe sleeping.  We talked about toileting, feeding, playing and medicines.  We even talked about emergency backup plans (although we both knew they wouldn’t be needed).  I went home wondering whether I’d made her feel better (or worse) about it and, as it happened, the playdate went off without a hitch. 

It did make me realise, though, that Charlie really can be a difficult proposition – even to those who know and love her.  Although this has the potential to be a sad realisation, it makes me all the more grateful for the people around us who continue to make the extra effort.

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