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Growing Up Powerful: Ep 9. Expert Talk with Nona Willis Aronowitz

Jestine interviews author and relationship columnist at Teen Vogue Nona Willis Aronowitz on how we can get along with our families, and what the concept of chosen families means to her.

This is episode 9 of our Growing Up Powerful miniseries! These are stories about dealing with big feelings, growing up, and connecting to the world around you. And just so you know, some of these themes may be mature for our younger Rebels. We encourage listening with your grown up.

This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls. It’s based on the book Rebel Girls: Growing Up Powerful. This series was produced by Joy Smith, Deborah Goldstein, and Haley Dapkus, with sound design and mixing by Mumble Media. It was written and edited by Abby Sher. Fact-checking by Joe Rhatigan and sensitivity read by Schuyler Swenson. Narration by Margaret Ying Drake as Asha and Imani Parks as Jestine. Original theme music was composed and performed by Elettra Bargiacchi. Our executive producers were Joy Smith and Jes Wolfe. Thank you to the whole Rebel Girls team who make this podcast possible. Stay rebel!


JESTINE: Hello! And welcome to Growing Up Powerful, the bonus episode!

I’m Jestine, your co-host on the Rebel Girls Growing Up Powerful series. And I’m here with Nona Willis Aronowitz, celebrated author, editor, and relationship columnist at Teen Vogue, not to mention the author of Growing Up Powerful. Ha! I guess I mentioned it after all. 

Anyway, we wanted to take a closer look at families, so we invited Nona to share her thoughts with us. 

Hiya Nona!

Nona: Thank you so much for having me.

JESTINE: Of course! Thank you so much for doing this, So, in episode 6, otherwise known as Biology and Banana Peels, we talked a lot about what the word family means to us. Can you tell us a little about what family means to you?

Nona: Well it’s so interesting because if you had asked me a year ago, I would’ve told you about my dad and my mom and my siblings. But now that I have a new daughter, I’m now thinking about the family that I just formed. So I live with my husband Dom, my baby daughter Dory, and my cat Larry in house. And that’s my family.

JESTINE: Wow. That’s so cool. And do you have siblings?

Nona: Yes, but it’s kind of a funky situation. My dad was married a couple of times before he was with my mom, so I have four half-siblings on his side, but I’m my mom’s only child.

JESTINE: Whoa, that is funky. Does that mean, you’re the youngest? 

Nona : Well, technically I’m the youngest, but actually I grew up more like an only child because by the time I was born, all four of my siblings were old enough to be out of the house. So being an only child is very different from having siblings. And I think that definitely changed the family dynamic. I had a lot more attention from my parents. 

JESTINE: Oooh, I can totally see that. And what would you say is the best thing about your family?

Nona: Well when I think about the family I grew up in, and when I think about the family I have now with my daughter and husband, it’s really the same thing that I like about them, which is that everybody has a great sense of humor. Even my daughter who is only 10 months old, really can, you know, administer a joke. I really appreciate it. She’s very giggly, she’s very smiley. My husband tells a lot of jokes. We laugh a lot and that’s a great thing about our family. 

JESTINE: I love that! Okay, can you tell us about a favorite family memory. Like, was there maybe a trip you all took together that stands out in your mind?

Nona: So every summer my mom, my dad and I would pack up our Volvo station wagon and go to upstate New York. We had this ferry, ramshackle farmhouse in upstate in the mountains. And we would go to this place Colgate Lake every day after I went to day camp. And I have wonderful memories of us swimming the whole, the whole lake. And before I could even swim, I would be on my dad’s shoulders. And now years later, I live a mere 40 minutes from that same lake upstate.

JESTINE: Yes please! I love swimming in lakes! Okay, this is kind of a challenging question. So, I have a sister, and I love her, but to be honest, a lot of times, I don’t really like her. We fight a lot, we don’t have much in common. We totally get on each other’s nerves. So…do you have any advice?

Nona: You know, this is tough because people go through phases where they don’t like each other at all. And maybe in two years your sister will become a different person or a different version of herself that you do really like. But the whole point of family isn’t that you will like them as friends or that you would hang out with them if you had just met them in the wild. It’s that you understand them and you love them and you trust them. And that’s different from liking their personality. Sometimes, unfortunately, you wouldn’t necessarily like their personality if you had just met them. But you do love them because you share so much history and so much of a bond with them. 

JESTINE: Nice. I like the idea of it going in phases. For sure. And can you talk a little bit about the idea of a chosen family? 

Nona: Well, chosen family is extremely important to me because neither of my parents are alive anymore. They were both pretty old when they had me. They had both been married before and at the very last minute they decided to have me and that meant that I just had a little bit less time with them. But luckily I have really leaned on very, very good friends that I’ve had for a long time. Um, I have a few camp friends that I met when I was 11 years old that I still talk to and, and lean on. And that really came in handy when I lost my parents because I did have family to support me and fall back on.  

JESTINE: Wow. That’s so beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. And last but not least…why do you think family is so important?

Nona: I think it goes back to what I was saying about your sister, where it, it doesn’t really depend on whether you like the person, whether you think they’re cool or whether they, whether you have something in common with them. It’s really more about unconditional love and that’s just so important. And by unconditional love, I mean people aren’t gonna judge you depending on your likes and dislikes and style and um, and achievements. They’re just gonna love you because you’re you. And that’s the difference between family and you know, friends who may come and go throughout your life. Does that make sense?

JESTINE: Definitely. Whoever I call family needs to love me for being me. Well, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us, Nona! 

Nona: Thank you!

JESTINE: And thank YOU Rebels, for tuning in to this Growing Up Powerful Bonus episode! Talk to ya soon!  
This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls.

This episode was narrated by ME! Imani Parks as Jestine, with special guest Nona Willis Aronowitz. It was produced and directed by Deborah Goldstein, with Joy Snmith and Haley Dapkus. Sound design and mixing by Mumble Media. It was written and edited by Abby Sher. Our executive producers are Jes Wolfe and Joy Smith.

Original theme music was composed and performed by Elettra Bargiacchi.

A special thanks to the whole Rebel Girls team, who make this podcast possible!

Until next time, staaaay rebel!

If you like what you heard here and want to learn more, check out the newest book from Rebel Girls! Growing Up Powerful: A Guide to keeping confident when your body is changing, your mind is racing, and the world is…complicated. With stories from rebels all over the world and guidance from some brilliant experts, this book is our newest bff. Order your copy of Growing up Powerful today on Amazon or anywhere you purchase books!