One of my favorite movies is Auntie Mame, the story of a rich eccentric socialite who raises her nephew to be a free spirit during the years around the stock market crash and Great Depression. The movie came out in 1958 and dealt with life and sexuality in a refreshing and very avant-garde way for the time. This movie resonated with me strongly and I have found myself to be the “Auntie Mame” for many children over the years. I even have “Life Is A Banquet . . . “tattooed on my left wrist (part of a quote from the movie).
I chose not to have children fairly early on; although I was blessed with an amazing stepson in the 80’s and have had numerous children throughout my adulthood in my life. Two of the most incredible are my Godchildren, Ty and Jordon (now in their 30’s). They were the first kids in my life who I became “Auntie Mame” to.
I remember years ago, Jordon’s mom came to me asking me to “talk to him” because she hadn’t ever been in trouble as a teenager and he had just been busted for joy-riding in their car. So, I took the 15 year old to dinner and we discussed his behavior. For some reason our conversation took a turn and we started talking about homosexuality. Jordon was pretty adamant that while it was okay for girls to like each other, gay men were gross. I decided to challenge him and asked him who is best friend was.
“Jason” he said.
I then asked him “What would you do if you found out tomorrow that Jason was gay?”
“I’d kick his ass” he said.
My response was “why would you do that? He was gay before you found out and he was your best friend then. Why would finding out that he was gay make a difference? What would have changed?”
“Aunt Nena (the kids’ nickname for me), that’s not fair” he said.
“Why?” I replied.
“Because you’re making me think”.
And then we continued to have a conscious conversation about homosexuality and sex. Several years later he started to go dancing with a few of his straight friends at a local gay disco because they had the best music. I don’t think he would have done that if we wouldn’t have had our conversation.
As his sister, Ty was growing up she and I had an amazing relationship. As early as 5 I was already instilling in her the independence streak she has to this day. Way before Shrek was written, we had a story that I made up about Princess Ty and the Troll. About a Princess who was going to be forced to marry the Prince her father chose and when she ran away ended up with adventures that included meeting a Troll. And when the time come to choose to have the Troll turned into a Prince, she decided to turn herself into a Troll, because Trolls have way more fun the Princesses, you know. Years later when she started her period, it was Aunt Nena who took her out to dinner to celebrate this important milestone in her life. And it was Aunt Nena who she came to all concerned and saddened when she realized that she was straight, not bisexual. She and I still have an amazing relationship and can talk about virtually anything.
And they were just the beginning. In the 80’s my then husband’s son came to live with us not long after we had moved in together. Poof! I had a son. And while it was challenging it was also a great experience. I remember one time, when he was 11 and we were watching a show on teen pregnancy, he looked at me and asked if he’d get grounded if he got a girl pregnant. My response was yes, for 18 years at least. And then we had a serious conversation about sex and birth control and all because I’d never once shut him down or shamed him for wanting to talk about anything. Nothing was off-limits or made me uncomfortable and because of that my son and I could have great conversations.
I’ve had numerous friends who have entrusted their kids with me (of all ages) and the friendships have all continued into adulthood. I had one agreement with their parents and the kids. They could talk to me about anything and I wouldn’t say a word to their folks, unless I felt their life was in danger. Because of that, I was the first person a close friend of mine’s daughter came to when she was struggling with coming out to her Dad. I’ve been the adult to talk with about sex and drugs and pretty much any subject. Every kid needs someone to talk to without concerns that they’ll be judged or made wrong.
And recently, I’ve become a Grandma! Well, my Granddaughter is 16 but I didn’t meet her until she was 14. Remember that amazing stepson I mentioned earlier, well he came back to live in Washington with his wonderful wife and beautiful daughter a couple years ago. Found me on Facebook of all things and we immediately started off where we left off. He’d been trying to get back to Washington for some years, primarily because of me. In fact, he told me that I was the first positive parental influence in his life; me, the person who chose to never have kids. I was overjoyed to have him back in my life.
And now I have the privilege of being the coolest Grandma on the planet. I took her to her first roller derby and to her first Rocky Horror show. We hung out earlier this week and geeked out together at the Pacific Science Center and the EMP/Science Fiction Museum. We talk about everything and she really listens to me (and I to her). Our conversations are mind-blowing at times.
My Granddaughter is queer and beautiful and smart (A student) and simply incredible. Having her in my life is the best thing that has happened to me in years. And I’m thrilled to not only be a cool Grandma, but also an “Auntie Mame” to teach her to “Live, live, live” and that “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.
Every child needs an Auntie Mame.