In Praise of Wild Aunts
Written By Savvy Auntie Staff Writers
By Leah Odze Epstein, drinkingdiaries.com
Leah Odze Epstein is the co-editor of Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up (Seal Press), an anthology of essays by prominent women writers about drinking. She co-edits the blog, Drinking Diaries (http://www.drinkingdiaries.com), and blogs for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today. Follow Drinking Diaries on Facebook and Twitter.
Every time I see my older sister, she says, “Don’t tell Mom and Pop, but...”
“What have you done now?” I ask, rolling my eyes while my kids—ages 8, 11, and 14—pick their heads up from their cell phones and lean forward intently, listening in. What did their wild aunt do this time? Quit her job and drive cross country, camping out at the Rainbow Festival? Fly to Las Vegas for a girl’s weekend? Meet a new guy? Get a belly ring?
It cracks me up that this is still going on even though my sister is turning 50 this year. She has no children, and she’s divorced. This is what thrills my tween and teen girls about their aunt: just like them, she’s in flux, constantly changing and revising who she is. At the moment, my sister holds down a very stable job and leaves for work at 6:00 every morning. But in my daughters’ eyes, she’s still closer to their world than mine: there are things she’d rather not share with our parents; she has recently navigated the world of guys; she’s dating her high school crush who is over six feet tall, has a tattoo, and smokes. I’m their boring mom who nags them to clean their rooms and wake up in the morning.
My girls are enthralled by the very things that make my sister and me polar opposites. I’m always preaching about how they should read more, but she laughs and says that she’s “too ADD” to read. She loves makeup, and nail polish, and nice clothes, whereas I’m most comfortable in my yoga pants, makeup-free. She posts TMI on Facebook and is just as interested in Kim Kardashian as they are. Unlike all the suburban moms they know, she doesn’t have kids of her own. And she makes no secret of the fact that she likes it that way.
She loves being an aunt. If my kids feel they can’t talk to me or my husband for whatever reason, I like to think they’ll feel comfortable talking to their aunt. She’s been there done that and cops to it all. Her wildness has sometimes had a dark side, and I see her real-life experiences with drugs and alcohol as an advantage: she can, with authority, tell it like it is to my kids, using her experience as a cautionary tale.
It’s good to have a wild Auntie to lift the kids out of their comfort zones and to showcase another way of being. When we visited my sister’s house in the country, we went swimming in a quarry where a sign read, “Swim at your own risk.” I jumped in, motivated by my sister’s boyfriend’s war whoops. My son jumped in after me while my daughters stood at the edge, wide-eyed. It’s good for them to expand beyond their safe suburban world. My sister has always shown me another way: the way of doing, rather than thinking and reading; the way of pushing toward the edges rather than always staying safe in the middle. Now, she’s showing my kids.
Photo: Victor Habbick
Published: November 13, 2012