I have never wanted to make a baby. I’ve known this since I was a girl. It’s not because I fear bringing a child into a world on the brink of environmental disaster, or even because I find the thought of going 9 months without alcohol unbearable. I simply never had the instinct to breed. While other girls fed their Baby Alive dolls, I made tube tops for my Mego Cher doll. When friends settled down and wed men who would make good fathers, I made a point of dating only the psychotic and unemployed.
Throughout my twenties, people often said to me, “You say you don’t want children now, but someday you will.” So, I waited, thinking maybe my biological clock would start ticking. But it never did.
Now that I’m 34, the people who claimed to know what I would “someday” want have finally shut up. Now I can focus on my preferred role: the wacky aunt.
If you’ve ever been seated at the children’s table during a family function, you might be one of them. Wacky aunts are the underachieving Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America. Every child should have one. They are mentors whose singular goal is to teach their nieces and nephews how to have fun. Whereas a Big Brother might shoot hoops with his little bro on a Sunday afternoon, a wacky aunt will teach her little nephew how to Vaseline his parents’ toilet seat.
And being a wacky aunt is rewarding because your nieces and nephews automatically adore you (until they’re old enough to feel ashamed of you).
Whereas adult family members might belittle your lack of maturity, your nieces and nephews will think it’s cool. Adults might not understand why you barely moved from the couch during a six-month stint of unemployment, but your nieces and nephews will realize you were busy studying the SpongeBob canon. And they will appreciate the ease with which you quote Patrick Starfish.
They understand that though you are big, you are practically one of them.
Recently, my nephew, Brady, asked me, “Are you a grownup, Aunt Jenny?”
“I hope not,” I told him.
Since I’m an eccentrically dressed art star who lives in New York City with an eccentrically dressed Chihuahua, wacky aunthood came naturally to me, much as it did to Auntie Mame. If I have failed in my role at all it’s because I’ve occasionally run the risk of becoming the “crazy aunt.” (And I won’t remain the favorite aunt long if my nieces and nephews are forced to visit me at the State Hospital every weekend when they’d rather be watching Dora the Explorer.) Since I’m an eccentrically dressed art star who lives in New York City with an eccentrically dressed Chihuahua, wacky aunthood came naturally to me.
Still I have tried. And with six nieces and nephews, all living in various states, it hasn’t been easy.
When my sister’s first son, Johnny, was born, I even tried to help out in the delivery room. Despite my best efforts, I did little but stare in horror as the doctor used what looked like a Flowbee to suck the baby’s head out of my sister’s vagina. At lesat now, if my nephew ever considers practicing unsafe sex, I can tell him all about the “miracle” of his birth. (One of the roles of wacky aunthood is that of guidance counselor.)
Other jobs include spiritual guru, strategic mastermind, stylist and collaborator.
As spiritual guru, I field a lot of profound questions. Parents are too busy putting food on the table and making sure their children don’t ingest Clorox to offer enlightenment, so it’s up to aunts to answer the big questions.
The other day, my sister Wendy called. “Brady wants to know what a mystic is,” she said.
Brady is five. He’d been watching Power Rangers: Mystic Force.
“Tell him that a mystic is a person who achieves higher states of consciousness.”
She returned a second later.
“He wants to know what consciousness is.”
“Tell him it’s being awake.”
On a recent trip to Maryland, as Wendy drove Brady, Johnny and me to the mall, Brady asked, “Do you believe the Bible?”
My sister, who’s enrolled her children in Catholic school, shot me a look of death.
“Well, the Bible is an interesting book,” I began.
“She believes it,” my sister quickly said, turning up the radio and punching me in the arm.
A minute later, Johnny chimed in. “I hate mass! It’s boring!” he shouted over the music.
“I hate mass, too!” Brady added.
“I also hate mass!” I agreed, joining the religious uprising in the back of the car.
At the mall, I was faced with more probing questions.
“Why do girls get prettier shoes than boys?” Brady asked. Though my sister thought the experience of hanging out with a six-foot-tall man in a spider costume would someday “lead to expensive therapy,” my nephews had a great time.
“Because boys get to control the world,” I answered.
Brady and Johnny are the two nephews I chat with most frequently, because one niece and nephew live in Seattle and the other two are too young to engage in philosophical conversations.
Brady is extremely tiny, weighing only 36 pounds, so I feel especially responsible for teaching him that being different is cool even if every girl his age is a foot taller than him. So far, I’ve helped him soup up his dungaree jacket with bitchin’ Kiss buttons and taught him that chicks dig long hair. He is now the coolest person in Maryland.
To add to his hipness quotient, I also recently cast him and Johnny as supervillains on the TV show The Adventures of Electra Elf, which I make with the underground filmmaker Nick Zedd. They played Rastus and Skeeter, two insect children from the planet Arachnidonia. I traveled to Maryland with a green screen, two child-sized insect costumes, my friend, Mike Boner (dressed in a spider costume) and Nick.
Though my sister thought the experience of hanging out with a six-foot-tall man in a spider costume would someday “lead to expensive therapy,” my nephews had a great time. Plus, they entertained me during what would otherwise be a stressful shoot.
Brady looked at Nick Zedd’s spiked red hair and assessed, “Nick has very interesting hair.”
He and Johnny then proceeded to improvise an assortment of silly dances for the camera.
Why can’t I have that much fun making art? I wondered. For all my commitment to showing my nephews how to have fun, they are the real experts.
Sometimes even slackers like me take life too seriously.
My last visit to Maryland was fueled by a breakup, financial ruin and general despair. I was on the verge of a mental breakdown when Brady and Johnny came bounding through the door.
“Aunt Jenny, guess what?” Johnny asked, as though he had something extremely important to tell me.
“Guess what?” Brady asked again.
“What?” I asked, growing a little annoyed.
“Chickenbutt!” they both screamed, and were then consumed by hysterical laughter.
I laughed right along with them.