When my first nephew was born, I wasn't sure what my role as an aunt entailed. I was single, self-absorbed and not used to babies. Thankfully, my siblings kept having kids, so by the time my third nephew came along, my aunt game was strong.
I didn't stop at sending obligatory birthday cards. I sent cards and treats for Valentine's Day, Halloween and St. Patrick's Day. On President's Day, I sent them little flags and stickers with George Washington's face on them. I attended baptisms, wrote checks and bought towels with little hoods that made my nephews and nieces look like frogs or panda bears. For two of the kids, I was the godparent, which elevated the relationship to spiritual levels.
Oh how I adored and doted on my brother's and sister's children. Their chubby faces adorned my fridge and smiled at me from silver frames all around my office. I secretly hoped that people believed I was their mother.
I bragged that I was the best aunt in the Midwest, if not the world.
I want to be an attentive aunt, even though my own kids take up 98 percent of my time, attention and energy.
Then, I stopped being single and childless. I became a mother with my own baby to dote on and take care of. Soon, my daughter's face took front and center on the fridge and at the office. The pictures of my nieces and nephews were scooched to the side to make way for the 11-by-13 photograph of my daughter on the day she was born. Soon, my nieces and nephews were placed on a lower shelf.
On the first Valentine's Day after I gave birth, I raced to Target to get diapers and forgot all about getting cards for my siblings' kids. Even my godchildren slipped my mind.
Before I knew it, I became what I dreaded: the aunt who only acknowledged birthdays and Christmases. The secret fund of money I kept in case any of them needed bail money was transferred to my daughter's college fund.
Maybe it's natural to shift allegiance from your nephews and nieces to your own children, like when new parents start ignoring their pets. But I want to be better than that. I want to be an attentive aunt, even though my own kids take up 98 percent of my time, attention and energy.
The last straw came this month. I flat-out forgot my godson's birthday—for more than a week. This was the same kid whose care package I used to plan weeks in advance, tracking his interests like a falconer watching a prized bird. When I finally realized that his 9th birthday had passed without a thought from me, I begged him and my sister to forgive me. The remote control helicopter I sent rush delivery was cool, but it couldn't erase my fall from grace.
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So I'm going to claw my way back. Motherhood or no, my nieces and nephews deserve a good aunt. They deserve Valentine's Day cards with Hershey's kisses and St. Patrick's Day cards with green bowler hats.
I'm going to earn back the title for the crown of best aunt. Or, at the very least, I'm going to start by remembering their birthdays and sending their Christmas gifts on time.