Caption: It has been scientifically proven that ants cooler than Aunts.
On my father’s side of the family I have a gaggle of meddling, megalomaniac aunts. Only through niche partitioning have they been able to coexist. Their success and status cannot be directly compared because they have assumed different professions in different places and pushed their daughters into different extracurriculars. Oh right, they all have similarly aged daughters—used as devices to extend sibling rivalry beyond one mortal generation. By niche partitioning their daughters and themselves, everyone is the best in incomparable categories.
Here we go: Aunt Jackie, the chatty one, is a litigator in Orange County. Her elder daughter Olivia is a piano progeny who will attend Stanford and cure cancer (according to Aunt Jackie). Her younger daughter Sophia will be a malicious high school queen bee deserving of a reality show (according to me).
Aunt Maxine, the responsible one, is a doctor in Alabama. Her daughter Haley is quiet, into poetry and oil pastels. Her daughter Kaley is into pageants—pageants in Alabama! She also deserves a reality show, but I think that one already exists, “Tiaras and Tears” or something. I saw it on a plane once.
Aunt Nancy, the good one, is a social worker wherever the Lord needs her. Her daughter, April, was famed in high school for her Track & Field abilities and hotness—and above all her ability to compete in track meets, looking hot, smoking a cigarette, with blond-streaked, flat ironed DOWN hair. This is a very Pittsburgh way to be hot, but honestly, really impressive. April won States, smoked cigarettes, and had DOWN hair on the medal stand. I was a track athlete at the same high school, a few years in her wake, and had to embrace the reputation as April’s less-hot, less-fast cousin.
And lastly, there is Aunt Gloria. Auntie Gloria was the wild vie Bohème one. She ran away to South America as a teen. It took her seven years to graduate from Penn State with a degree in PARKS AND RECREATION because she only attended summer term: “it was too cold in the winter.” She lived on a commune. She sold nuts and berries. She had a lot of altered experiences. Fast-forward twenty years, one psychology PhD, and a child, and Aunt Gloria is the suburban mother one. She plays tennis and sells organic garlic online. She’s planning to run for School Board and has a repertoire of diatribes about suburban threats like the intersection of Washington Road and Elm Street, the shortcomings of the 7th grade English curriculum, and above all, the menace of teenage drinking—as if she was not the ringleader of teenage drinking in this town 35 years ago.
I really can’t blame Aunt Gloria for her obnoxious hypocrisy and self-righteousness. She was once forgotten at a rest stop as an eight-year-old. The family station wagon got all the way to Lake Erie before my grandparents noticed. Such a traumatizing childhood experience excuses her from any and all adult faults (My grandparents also moved houses when my Dad was away at college without telling him, but he’s coped or repressed better).
Aunt Gloria’s daughter, Emmie, is pretty okay. She plays the bells in a bells group because she likes the bells. It might not get her into college (actually it probably will), but she likes it and I like that.
Actually all of my cousins are pretty okay, despite their mothers. I respect them a lot for being pawns in embarrassing, aging sibling rivalry.
And I do get along with my Aunts, but only because I have developed and adhere to a set of rules for encountering and interacting with The Aunts. I believe these to be universal laws of Aunts, but they must be tested in non-Western, forager societies (Someone ask our friends, the Hadza, if they wouldn’t mind participating in but one more study). Regardless of the cross-cultural findings, the rules will surely aid in relations with the Aunts of you—my Western blog readers! Everyone has an Aunt Nancy after all (even among the Hadza, but it’s pronounced !Nancy).
Aunts must be treated like Gremlins. If you abide by a few simple rules, they will be loving and adorable. Break the rules and they will wreak havoc. To be safe, I observe the original Gremlins rules (e.g. I never feed Aunt Nancy after midnight), but have added three Aunt specific rules.
1) Never give an Aunt your email address.
As a college student in 2004 I told my Aunts that I did not have email. “Nope, I’m not really into the internet.” But somehow my address was discovered in May of 2010. And my fears came to be:
Firstly, torrents of Chicken Soup for the Soul chain letters and pictures of dogs dressed as hot dogs. From aol and yahoo email accounts.
Next, terrible requests. They ask me to do favors for their most distant six degrees—no sixteen degrees!—of separation connections. My aunts’ client’s sister’s mailman’s dog walker’s therapist’s son and the like.
For example, last spring I received an email from Auntie_Gloria@aol.yahoo.whatever.com:
“Hi love! My tennis partner’s neighbor’s nephew is moving to Boston for a new job! He’s coming to look for apartments this weekend and I insisted that he stays at your place—why waste money on a hotel?! You could show him around, give him tips about Boston, and probably become great friends—or more (wink, wink).
PS: Emmie is doing tremendous is school this year. Following (or surpassing!) your footsteps even. Maybe she’ll be joining you at Harvard soon—if she doesn’t get too busy with all her boyfriends LOL.”
As obnoxious as this is, you don’t know the worst part. Her tennis partner’s neighbor’s son was CC-ed on the email. So I could not say no.
Actually the worser worst part is that Aunt Gloria didn’t even know her tennis partner’s neighbor’s son. He could have been a murder, or worse—what he ended up being. A guy who showed up to my apartment wearing a backpack, a bicycle helmet, and a silk shirt with dragons on it. I don’t know which element to address first.
The helmet. He biked to the airport in Pittsburgh. People don’t bike to the airport in Pittsburgh. It’s a 40-minute drive from downtown, on an interstate with tremendous hills. People don’t bike anywhere in Pittsburgh, unless they are 13 and biking to the community swimming pool because the babysitter’s car is in the shop. But this dude biked to the airport, locked his bike to some random fence (because there is certainly no bike rack at the airport because you don’t bike to the airport in Pittsburgh), and brought his helmet to Boston.
The dragon shirt. It wasn’t an ordinary silk dragon shirt. It was an optical illusion silk dragon shirt. You could only see the dragons from a particular angle and 180° from that angle. He also did not shower once during his two-day stay. And he had biked to the airport!
Never give an Aunt your email address.
2) Do not talk when you’re talking “with them.”
This one is simple to understand, but difficult to execute. When an Aunt is talking “with you,” they do not want you to contribute to the conversation. Do not respond. Do not interject. They only want to hear themselves talk. Just pick a point on the wall behind them, focus your gaze, and periodically nod and say “yeah.”
Even when they ask you a direct question like “Annelia do you like my coat? It’s fake fur from Costco! Isn’t that rad? Do you want one for Christmas? I can get you one.”
I said forcefully, “No Aunt Jackie, I really have enough coats and cannot fit another into my wardrobe.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, it is lovely, but I really do not have the space for another coat. Please, for the love of god, do not get me that coat.”
And then I received that coat for Christmas. Aunts do not listen.
3) Avoid aggregations of >2 Aunts.
I do enjoy my Aunts individually. The trouble is when they converge for some ritual gathering, like Christmas or a wedding. When April got married there was a war between Gloria and Maxine, which started over which shoes the Jr. bridesmaids would wear and ended in tears, screaming, and grand proclamations of the “this fatal flaw is why you are so terrible and your life is pathetic” type. I was in Romania at the time and I heard about it.
3b) Avoid aggregations of >2 Aunts especially in Paris…
…which is the topic of my next entry.