I recently visited an ice cream shop that offered tiny pink spoons for sampling. After testing the salted caramel, I put the miniature utensil in my handbag instead of in the cup on the counter. It was just the thing to delight a 3-year-old at an upcoming tea party.

While I'm certainly old enough to have grandchildren, my three young adults are not parents. (I try to resist the urge to quiz them about their plans for family-building.) Fortunately, I'm not without a beloved child's companionship. I babysit, snuggle with, read to and pick out special gifts for my troupe of great-nieces and great-nephews.

My sister has five Florida grandchildren for me to spoil when I travel south. I'm also close with my first cousin's daughter, who has always called me Auntie. Now that she's raising her family in Minnesota, I'm honored to be day-care backup for her two children. I consider myself great-aunt to all seven of them, fortunate that their grandmothers (my sister and cousin) are generous in ceding some doting time to me.

When I was aunt to my nieces and nephews, I was preoccupied with the demands of my own offspring. I remembered their birthdays and displayed their photos on my fridge, but I didn't have the emotional bandwidth to lavish much one-on-one attention on them.

And when I spent time with nieces and nephews, I was also in the company of my children. I tended to stand back to let them form those special bonds as cousins. On visits and vacations, I parented my nieces and nephews as part of the pack, doling out hugs but also laying down the same rules I had for my kids.

What a delight to discover I'm off the hook as a great-aunt. Being the bedtime enforcer has given way to spooning imaginary sugar into toy teacups.

My sweet seven give me a reason to once again push a swing, read about Ramona and cheer a young athlete. It's a thrill to be included in group texts with grandparents when there's a milestone to share. I treasure a video greeting with a child's earnest, high-pitched rendition of "Happy Birthday," sung just to me.

Like grandparents who value their unique titles — Oma and Boppa, Nana and Papaw — I've even come up with a special nickname for them to call me: Grady, for Great Aunt. (I decided to spell it Grady, rather than Greatie, which seemed a bit conceited.)

I'm all in on this next generation, who share the family bonds and will carry our traditions into the next century.

It is good to be great — a great-aunt, that is.