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?

2 thoughts on “The good aunt and social taboos

  1. Thank goodness for all of the Good Aunts out there! My daughter is blessed to have amazing blood aunts and “aunties” – dear friends who have become aunts. And I agree a bazillion times with you about the Christmas gifts. In matter of fact, a friend of mine gives each of her kids 3 gifts – – “just like baby Jesus” as she says!! I thought that was very clever.

    Will definitely pick the book up this weekend – looking forward to snuggling up with it on a lazy afternoon! = )

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