I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon. When I meet new, single people, we might be having a lovely chat and all-around good time, but the moment I mention my children, something changes. I can see myself being re-routed from ‘mysterious and fun stranger’ to ‘adequately interesting matron’ in their heads, whilst I, dismayed, know that hereon I have lost some social lustre. Given that I have four children, I will invariably refer to them in one context or another, despite my best efforts not to, and now forever I am ‘fairly fun, for a mom’.

I don’t think men get defined by their paternity the same way women, tiresomely, are. Why shouldn’t I be just fun, or just interesting, or just annoying and boring? Why am I now sized up with motherhood as the benchmark? We all know (or at least some of us do) that benchmark is dreadful: determining where one finds oneself on the aunty-scale is ridiculous and terrifying. Does wearing Sapphire make me an aunty? Does shopping at HnM make me a wannabe young-person? And why are all the young people so fashionable anyway?

Doesn’t anyone go through visible puberty any more, so that one can thank one’s stars for being well on this side of gawky teenage years and feel better? There aren’t any gauche teenagers wearing ridiculous clothes for miles around now, everyone is glossy and polished and expertly taking hollow-cheeked selfies at the table next to you while you enviously wonder how big these kids’ allowances are and how lax their curfews to be out to dinner in an expensive restaurant at ten thirty p.m.

Thank heaven that none of my children’s friends call me ‘aunty’. Neither has a shopkeeper, yet. There is something demoralizing about being called ‘aunty’, and I daresay, ‘uncle’. For thirty-somethings one is still in that lovely place where one is a real grown-up now, single or not, parent or not, but still young by all standards. The flip side, though, is an interesting place. We are a culture that sets great store by the roles one is supposed to occupy, and playing the part properly. If I was more traditional, then I wouldn’t be wondering about my place on the aunty-scale at all, because I’d be firmly on the ‘aunty’ end of it. My life would be easier, I suppose, if I were able to accept that, and even enjoy it. Culturally, once you marry you are a Married Lady, ergo an aunty, and you are expected to walk the walk and talk the talk and wear the clothes and have the tea parties (conversely I am assuming that when men marry they become Responsible Uncles, always referred to as ‘aap’ henceforth).

Some girls are dying to be aunties. They morph into the role with the greatest of aplomb, their hair sleek and their handbags on point. You can tell they are probably enjoying themselves enormously, buying clothes from each other’s exhibitions and posing in line after all those lovely lunches they get together for. It’s a Dorothy Parker short story in the making, sans the angst. There is a certain power in being an aunty, and access to it comes only if you look and act the part. It’s the glorious confidence of knowing exactly where you want to be in your life, and having a clear path to achieving it. These days that means the correct outfits and the proper diamonds, accessorized with the right attitude and perhaps some small home-based business venture on the side. An aunty is a woman, an adult in the eyes of the world, and everyone better hop to it. The aunty is, in short, the modern day begum sahib.

Being the consummate begum sahib is a heavy mantel to bear though, and that is where the trouble begins. What do you do if you have the rings and the nice tea trolley mats but you want to work for a multinational or be a singer? The begum sahib will fly off to tropical destinations for a holiday, but instead of lounging around what if you want to go skydiving? As an aunty you may have ‘imperious and in-control’ down pat, but spontaneity is not your preserve. Neither is rebellion. And that’s the inherent problem with being an aunty or an uncle: being boxed into a particular mould. It doesn’t matter how old you are; the glamour and adult charm of being an aunty or uncle often eclipses the dullness of reality. When you wear Valentino Rockstud heels to a children’s birthday party you might be on trend and you are certainly fitting in, but you aren’t going to be diving into a bouncy castle either. Not because you don’t want to, but you just can’t in those shoes. The shoes are the metaphor for all of us who feel they’re stuck on the Dread Scale. We want to do all kinds of things we think are fun, but we don’t because we feel like we can’t because we’re too old, it isn’t seemly, what will the kids/friends/neighbours/relatives/driver think, it isn’t dignified. But here’s the thing: the scale only exists in our imaginations. But because we all think it exists outside of us, we all pander to it, and keep it in existence. We’re assiduously groomed to perpetually fit in and not rock the boat; that’s the reason why we haven’t got enough groundbreaking scientists or brave political rebel leaders or philosophers. We’re told fitting in is the epitome of social success; the best aunty and uncle are the ones who behave exactly as women and men have been for generations. So instead of wondering how strangers’ perception of me changes when they discover my life choices, I should do myself a favour and not give a hoot. Conformity is overrated, and so is owning shoes you have nowhere but Cosa Nostra to wear to.