In our bedroom, we have a 'book cuberd' (as my friend's six-year-old twins labelled it when they made it for me almost two years ago) made out of a cornflake packet. In the sitting room, we have paintings by my nieces, and going up the side of the stairwell there's a looooooong picture of a giraffe, drawn by a niece a couple of years ago. Our fridge is also covered in children's drawings.
Last night DH and I went out for drinks and a meal for a friend's birthday. It was bitterly cold again, and before we left the house I grabbed a nice warm scarf to put on. It was made by my then seven or eight-year-old niece in the US. It's woven out of different colours of wool, and she must have run out of one of the types of wool she was using, as the two ends are completely different colour combinations and designs. I'm not sure if it's deliberate that it's much narrower in the middle than it is at each end. But it kept my neck lovely and warm, and I wore it with pride.
As I took it off in the pub, I proudly showed it to my friends, and then commented, "Probably only an aging childless aunt would actually wear this out in public." They didn't disagree.
DH once ended up in the casualty department of the hospital near his sister's house after getting a very nasty scratch on his hand while separating a fighting cat and dog. It was only when he noticed the funny looks he kept getting from the staff that he remembered that he was wearing brightly coloured nail varnish - a Christmas present his niece had received, which she had immediately wanted to try out. As an indulgent uncle, when asked to let her paint his fingernails he had willingly obliged.
And now this weekend we're going down to the south coast to spend the weekend celebrating the 10th birthday of one of my goddaughters. We're thrilled to have been invited to join in the celebrations, and we'll be having lunch once again with all the adults who mean the most to her - her parents, grandparents, uncle and aunt. She's having a sleepover, and if she and her little friends are looking for fingernails to paint, I'm sure DH will oblige again.
There's a special role in children's lives for the relative or family friend who doesn't have children of their own. When we see them, we have endless amounts of time for them, because we don't keep having to go and chase after our own children. We're not looking for special 'grown-up time', because we have our fill of that for most of the time, so we're willing to get down on our hands and knees with the toddlers, sing endless songs, read endless stories, have our nails painted and treasure their art work.
Most children have someone like us in their lives - I know my brothers and sisters and I did when we were growing up - and while it lasts, it's a privileged position that we should enjoy, as we have both done for years.
But hopefully one day some of those children will become the cool teenagers in our own children's lives...