The good aunt and social taboos

I don’t watch much television, and when I do, it’s usually a show I’ve DVR’d. So I don’t watch many ads. But last Wednesday evening, I sat down to watch a show as it was airing. That meant dealing with the ads, too. There was one in particular that ruffled my good aunt feathers.

I don’t know exactly when the Christmas season ads started (see above about the DVR), but my first Christmas ad of the season was one by Best Buy: Maya Rudolph holding a story book telling of Judy, who goes to Best Buy to stock up on a tablet, a PC and a smart phone for her nieces and nephews. Rudolph ends the book’s story with the nieces and nephews saying, “Yo, Aunt Judes, you’re like the best auntie ever.” See the ad for yourself.

This ad made me cringe and want to weep a bit at the same time. As if there’s not enough pressure at the holidays to set the perfect table and be the perfect daughter/wife/sister/mom/friend/fill-in-your-own-blank, now there’s pressure to top “Aunt Judes” with her gift-giving prowess.

Don’t get me wrong. I love shopping for my nephews and my friends’ children at Christmas, but I am not going to load up on electronics at Best Buy for them, even if that would elicit a response from them like the nieces and nephews in the ad. You see, I don’t believe Christmas and other gift-giving occasions are about spending ridiculous amounts of money to bribe children into “loving” you.

I know that puts me firmly at odds with the giant monster of American consumerism, and I’m okay with that.

When speaking your mind puts you at odds with society
I attended a book launch party this past weekend and was nervous about going. You see, I am not cool. I never was one of the cool kids and never will be one of those cool, trendy adults. (I’m okay with that, too.)

But I was going with one of my cool friends, and we were there to celebrate with another cool friend – Enuma Okoro – who has co-edited a book of essays called Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith.

The book is a compilation of 40 women under age 40 writing about topics that the church and society at large shrink away from discussing. And listening to several of the contributors read their essays, I took a deep breath and felt like I was in the safest of places. Uncool me, safe among voices willing to talk about topics, some of which I couldn’t even be brave enough to type out for you here.

I looked around at one point and realized I was surrounded with amazing women (and not a few supportive men) who were brave enough to break out of chains that might otherwise shame them into silence and share their stories. And I felt at home and uncharacteristically chatty. I was able to dish out little moments of grace, but received much more grace in return.

I had bought the book at the door and sat down for the readings to begin, but I cannot simply hold a new book in my hands without taking a peek inside, and that’s when I had to fight the urge to sit and read one of the essays and tune out everything around me.

The essay, written by co-editor Erin Lane, is called “Married without Children.” She’s talking about me, you know. That’s this good aunt. And words cannot express the surge that went through me that this group of women, that Erin Lane in particular, had picked my particular taboo topic to include in this book.

I saved reading the essay until after the party, actually waiting until I could sit in the quiet of a Caribou coffee shop sipping pumpkin chai (so, so delicious). The coffee barista stopped mid-order when she saw the book I was holding and wanted to know all about it. So I told her: it’s essays by Christian women about taboos within the church, taboos about gender and addiction and sexuality and more. I told her there was an essay in there about being married without children. Her response? “Oh, that is a taboo.” You’re telling me, I thought.

Reading that essay there in Caribou, I felt like I was sitting beside a new friend, one of those that you know from the first handshake really gets you, really understands where you’re coming from. I underlined, starred and even drew a heart beside words as I read. There were moments I was afraid I might have to gather up my things and leave, the wave of emotion – equal parts relief and revelation and validation and a feeling of kinship washing over me.

I hope you’ll pick up a copy of Talking Taboo. (It’s available through Amazon, but it would make me happiest if you would look for it in a local bookstore.)

You may find your own taboo topic discussed out loud in there. I hope you find the essays as freeing and energizing as I have. Once you’ve read the book, come back here and let me know what you thought. What made you laugh or cry or blush even though no one was looking?

Calling all good aunts, nieces, nephews and friends

It’s time to revisit the Good Aunt series, and I’ve decided to make it into a larger project. But making it bigger and better means I need your help.

So tell me, if you and I were walking and talking together and stopped to sit here for a few moments, what would you want to ask me? What would you want to tell me? What part of your stories would you want me to share?

Will you join me here for a conversation about good aunts?

Will you join me here for a conversation about good aunts?

I’m reaching out to you today to invite you to sit down with me and share conversations that matter with each other.

If you’re a woman who does not have children, if you’re a niece or nephew of a wonderful aunt who does/did not have children of her own, if you’re a friend of a woman whose story the world should know, I’d love to hear from you.

I’ve created a contact form with some questions to get the conversation started and to learn more about what you want to know about the woman you think of when you think of “good aunt.” The information you submit on the form will not be public. Only you and I will see your responses. (And let me assure you: You don’t even have to be a particularly good aunt or an aunt at all, but I’d still like to hear what you want to know about the topic.)

If the form is too daunting or bothersome for you, feel free to add your thoughts in the “Leave a Reply” section below, or simply email me. And please feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might like to participate. As I’ve said, I look forward to getting the conversation going.

A good aunt’s back-to-school advice

It’s back-to-school season, and I thought I’d put on my “good aunt” hat for a few moments and share some advice with you (most of it fitting whether you’re a child, a teenager, a young adult, a student, a parent, a teacher).

On starting college
Two summers ago, I wrote a blog post for two beloved young people in my life who were heading off to college. There’s a fresh batch of young people I know starting college this year. I know you’re busy finding where your classes are and trying to decide whether you like your roommate and figuring out how many times you can text your mom and still be cool. But I hope you’ll take time to read what I wrote. Everything in it is still true today.

On texting and driving
If you drive yourself or your children to school (or anywhere else), please take 35 minutes today to watch this film on texting and driving. Called From One Second to the Next, this film brings us the accounts of people whose lives were changed in a split second because of a driver’s decision to text while driving. For any of you with a driver’s license and a car, please watch this video. Commit to checking your text messages once you get to where you’re going. Commit to refusing to ride in a car with a driver who is texting. Commit to waiting to text a friend who is behind the wheel. No one should die because of an oh-so-important message: “LOL.” “Running late.” “Almost there.”

On appreciating your teachers and other school staff
Did you hear yesterday’s story of a school clerk who talked a gunman into putting down his weapons and letting police arrest him before he killed anyone? The photo at the top of the story shows a good aunt reaching out for the hand of her nephew, one of the precious children the school clerk helped save yesterday. The clerk, Antoinette Tuff, said, “I’m not the hero. I was terrified.”

I don’t agree with Tuff. Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Tuff is a hero. She overcame her terror and put her own life on the line to save the others in her school and community.

Appreciate your teachers, even if you don’t enjoy their class or teaching style. They may be the single thread that protects your life in a moment of terror.

On working hard
“School is hard.” This profound bit of truth comes from an eighth grader I know.

For some of you – I’m thinking especially of the high school seniors and college freshmen among you – there may be a temptation to play a little too hard. Just remember why you’re in school. First and foremost, you’re there to learn and to work hard. Learning how to add in the rest (the fun parts) is the first step toward becoming a well-rounded adult while also discovering the parts of life that fuel your passions.

On finding joy
While some of you parents out there – and even some of you students, too – may be overjoyed at the prospect of a new school year, others of you will have to work a little harder to find joy in school. But it’s worth the effort to find something you love about school. Try a new activity or class, or try out for a team or the school play. These extras give you an opportunity to learn more about yourself and forge strong bonds with friends new and old. School may be hard (see previous category), but it doesn’t have to be miserable.

On keeping the faith
Whether it was Vacation Bible School, a youth mission trip or just fun, relaxed summertime visits at church, you may have experienced some great “mountaintop” moments in your faith while school was out. Look for ways to carry those moments with you into the school year, and if you’re a college student, I encourage you to get tapped into a faith community near your college – even if you really, really loved your home church youth group and think you’ll come home every weekend to see your familiar friends there.

When I was in college, my faith was sometimes the only thread that held me together while it seemed like everything else was falling apart around me. Give yourself a gift of a community of faith wherever you are. Keep looking if the first place you land doesn’t quite fit. Faith and a community of believers will strengthen you in ways nothing else can.

For those of you past your own school years, do you have any advice for these young ones going back to school?

For those of you going back to school, do you have any advice you’d like to get from my readers?

If so, I hope you’ll add it to the comments below.

The good aunt on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is Sunday, a fact that wouldn’t have escaped you if you’ve been to a big box store or the grocery store or even the drug store, or if you’ve watched the least little bit of TV or had newspaper department store flyers fall onto your lap as you sit at breakfast.

I’ve seen plenty of blog posts this week about motherhood and mothering and wonderful mothers and mothers in need. I also saw (thanks to Ann Voskamp linking to it from her own blog) a blog post from a woman decrying the practice in some churches of honoring mothers by asking them to stand up during the service. Not because she thinks mothers don’t deserve a special day and a special honor, but because she wants church to feel like a safe place for all women, and some women are non-moms (her term for herself), who need an extra bit of compassion on Mother’s Day.

There are plenty of reasons to love Mother’s Day. Maybe you have a wonderful mother who is still living or you’re a mom of little ones who anticipate making you breakfast in bed and giving you homemade cards with little handprints and too much glitter.

But there are plenty of reasons not to love Mother’s Day either. You’re torn between seeing your own mother or spending time with your grown children. Your alcoholic mother abused you. Your mother is in the late stages of dementia and no longer recognizes you. Your mother is no longer living. You’re just not that close to your mother. Continue reading

The obsession with our scales

“I’m fat, and I need to lose weight,” she said. She was completely serious.


I stood in front of her trying not to let my mouth hang open in amazement, trying desperately to find the right words for her in that moment. We had only just met a few minutes before, and here she was, sharing this anxiety with me. And because of the circumstances, I so desperately wanted my response to be right.

You see, she is a lovely elementary school girl – a thin, almost petite, elementary school girl.

I was the only one of her Girls on the Run coaches standing with her and her friend as we waited for the others to arrive for the first session of our season together. She was chatting away, telling me how excited she was to learn to run, “because my mom told me running would help me lose weight.”

Me: “Do you think that’s something you need to worry about?”
Her: “Yes. I’m fat, and I need to lose weight.”
Me: “I don’t think you need to lose any weight.”
Her friend: “Well, I know I need to lose weight.”
Me: “I don’t think any growing girl needs to worry about weight.”

Those were the words spoken out loud, but I wonder what was going on in the brains of the two girls as we stood together talking. Did the girl who brought up the subject want me to reassure her that she was thin and pretty? Did the one who stood by quietly wonder how best to support her friend and decided the best way was to answer, “Me, too”? Or did they both truly believe they are fat? Continue reading