From Horrible Warning to Good Example: the Cool Aunt checklist

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to think about how I’m living my life in relation to other people. There aren’t many people close enough to me, emotionally or geographically, to worry about how my baloney affects them on a daily basis. Which is lucky because shit gets WACKY every now and then. Sometimes that probably seems pretty enviable and sometimes it doesn’t, but the fact is that I really like my life, which is way more important than what it looks like on the outside.

But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how my life impacts others, because suddenly there a lot of impressionable people in it. Of course, I’m talking about babies; those tiny dictators with good-smelling heads and big eyes and incredible finger strength. I LOVE being Auntie Alle, and I take my Cool Aunt duties very seriously. Babies are easy for the Cool Aunt. Sure they cry and poop, but those have concrete solutions. Babies usually don’t ask deep philosophical questions which you have to answer correctly or risk scarring the kid for life. That’s for later. Those babies grow up into little people who are experiencing life for the first time, and that is where the Cool Aunt’s job really begins. You are the impartial judge and the confidante. Out of nowhere they have thoughts of their own, and they become curious about you. You realise they are paying attention to how you act and think. They are looking to YOU for cues. And just like that, you’ve become a role model.

Please join me as I clap hands to forehead and scream “Fuck!”

As these things go, I’m not the worst role model. My shit is reasonably together. But I’m the first to admit that I’m not always a great influence. And because I’m going to be spending a lot more time with the younger generation come September, I have to start really thinking about how I can be both Cool Aunt AND a good example. So I made a list about it. It’s what I do.

From Horrible Warning to Good Example: the Cool Aunt checklist

  • Swearing.

Captain Haddock knows what’s up.

Problem: Ughhh. I’d probably have better luck trying to catch bullets with my bare hands. Bad words pepper my vocabulary whether I’m talking about politics or laundry and while that’s fine for adults, describing a kids classmate as a fucking asshole hellbeast is not going to win me responsibility points.

Solution: Get creative with my cursing. Paul Keating thought of MILLIONS of ways to insult his political opponents, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t have to resort to calling them dicknuts. “Old Jellyback” and “the little desiccated coconut” seem to be okay.

  • Inappropriate attire.

“What? I’m just going to the grocery store!”

Problem: I lack the part of my brain that tells people what’s okay to wear, when. I never met a daytime sequin I didn’t like. I embrace ALL the colours ALL at once. I believe the technical term for my sartorial personality is a Man Repeller. While it’s fine for me to wear slutty tank tops and little jorts (confidence, heeeey!) a part of me wonders how I’d feel about my goddaughters dressing that way as young girls. Childhood is so short. I wouldn’t want the way that I dress and present myself as an adult to negatively affect the way that they dress and present themselves as kids.

Solution: Maybe I should wear Chanel tweed jackets and pearls? That’s respectable, I could be into it. But plausibly, I have to keep in mind that little girls want to be big girls. Although I won’t abandon my steez for nun habits, I should keep the sideboob for kid-free fun times.

  • Music.

Carol Hughes and Ruby Keeler, from the LIFE image archive.

Problem: Ah, the eternal conflict. I feel like it’s my sacred duty as Cool Aunt to introduce my teeny minions to the awesomeness of music. The question is, should I be playing them Bon Iver or Spice Girls? The hipster snob in me wants to get them to sing along to an exclusively Pitchfork-approved soundtrack, but the glittery unicorn in me demands a playlist straight out of RuPaul’s Drag Race. What’s a girl to do?

Solution: The ipod goes on shuffle and I resist all urges to buy a record player. This represents my inability to ever find an interesting compromise.

  • Self love.

I wish I owned this. I’d wear the SHIT out of it.

Problem: The worst moment of my life was having a ten year old tell me “You’re so beautiful, and I’m so ugly and fat.” I LOVE this girl and that just destroyed me. It got me thinking. I’m really critical of myself sometimes, and I would hate any kid that I spend time with to pick up on and internalise that.

Solution: Unsure. Right now I give lots of praise for non-appearance related things (doing well on a test, starting a new sport) to demonstrate that being smart and working hard are WAY more important than being skinny or attractive. That doesn’t always work because all kids want to be told they’re pretty or handsome, especially when they’re dressed up. This is a personal preference, but I always prefer to get compliments about things that I’ve put time or effort into (like my hair, an outfit, my nails) rather than stuff that just happened (“Oh, you’re so tall and thin!”). I think I’ll do that unto other, smaller peoples.

  • Emotional vocabulary.

i carry your heart / i carry it with my heart.

Problem: I am not great with the empathy. I have problems talking about emotions. I worry that I’m not going to be able to understand or relate to the awesome/terrible things that happen in kids’ lives. I worry that my advice will be bad or steer them wrong. I worry that I’ll be cold or strange when I shouldn’t be, and then I’ll be Creepy Aunt Alle, You Know, The One Who Stares.

Solution: Try. Try, try, try, try. This is probably more of a baseless fear than a legit problem, to be honest.

  • Risk-taking.

Presented without comment.

Problem: I’m a planner by nature, not a risk-taker. That being said, holy shit can I get myself into some CRAZILY DANGEROUS situations. Although I want to say that this is a function of life and not me as a person, honesty compels me to admit that my curiosity and stubbornness might have something to do with it.

Solution: I should probably hold off on telling the beating-up-an-armed-mugger story (and the like) until everyone is old enough to understand how big a part luck plays in vigilante crime fighting. Even if it would score me major cool points, because let’s be real, occasionally getting to be a Batman-Clarice Starling hybrid TOTALLY WOULD.

So what do you guys think? Am I on the right track? What do YOU think it take to be a good role model?

6 thoughts on “From Horrible Warning to Good Example: the Cool Aunt checklist

  1. I think being a role model to kids is a lot easier than being a role model to adults. But the swearing problem is a tough one to break…there were PLENTY of times I wanted to tell my students they were being little assholes but I didn’t!! …watching a lot of shows that kids watch helps to come up with non-swearing swears and it scores you some cool points with the kids because they’ll know the reference….

  2. My workplace has a strict policy on swearing, and I’ve only broken it once or twice in the three years I’ve been there. I did it with style though, and at the very least, the last one was totally worth it (power station next to the data center exploded, taking our computers with it).

    In all fairness though, parents mollycoddle their kids way too much nowadays. Remember when we were kids, people fell off trampolines and broke their arms all the time. Kids will be kids. Teach em to swear, drink, and take risks… they’re going to learn it from someone, it might as well be you. At least then you can keep an eye on them & help em learn how to do it right.


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