Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

The kids are all right, despite my being their chaperone

If you’re considering a trip to Kings Dominion theme park and wondering whether it has first aid facilities, I’m pleased to report it does, and they’re quite nice. I had a chance to hang out there last Friday with one of the kids I was chaperoning on my twelve year-old nephew’s chorus class trip.

Readers who remember my previous chaperone stint, a dress rehearsal-like experience during which I drove behind the bus like a groupie and lost my nephew within four minutes of arrival, are shaking their heads and thinking, “Did they not check her references?”

To you people, I say two things: 1) My nephew Will requested me; and 2) the statute of limitations for losing a kid on a field trip is three years and I cleared it a month ago. So there.

Will and I arrived at Moody Middle School (isn’t every middle school moody?) in Glen Allen, Virginia, at 8:15 a.m. and were engulfed by the uniquely high-pitched cacophony of a pubescent herd. We made our way to the auditorium, where I reported for duty and received a sheet listing the names of nine (9!) teenagers in my charge. I thought it best not to point out that nine kids totaled eight more than I’d ever managed before, or that, except for Will, I couldn’t identify any of them in a lineup. But I began to sweat under the maroon Moody Middle School Music Department t-shirt I’d donned with the goal of improving the kids’ chances of spotting me in the wild.

At 8:40 a.m., and just as my eardrums verged on perforation, the teachers performed the Miracle of Adolescent Organization and we boarded the buses. With Will’s help, I was able to account for all nine kids: a promising start. When we got to Kings Dominion, the chorus director, Mr. Drummond, got the whole group checked in and set us free to wander the park for the forty minutes that remained until our assigned warm-up time.

To my utter astonishment, all nine of my kids showed up at or before the appointed time. They and the other thirty-ish chorus kids huddled under a big tarp designated for rehearsing and began to tune up while all of us chaperones but one waited on benches nearby. The last chaperone, an actual parent, was busy chasing down a kid who’d gone on walkabout.

There I sat, basking in a self-congratulatory glow after getting all of my kids to appear on time, when the warm-uppy sounds trailed off and I heard a kid say, “Someone fainted!”

Without even looking, I knew the fainter belonged to me. My glow thus extinguished, I rushed to the tent for confirmation and to offer assistance in the only way I knew how: by filing a lawsuit.

I’m kidding, of course. Some person who’d been blessed with common sense rather than a law degree had already alerted the park’s first aid unit. Within moments, a young and rather hunky paramedic appeared, which, as remedies go, seemed to beat the heck out of smelling salts. Our girl began to perk up as the medic and his dimples eased her into a wheelchair and rolled her off to the first aid clinic, with me trailing behind, sherpa-like, with our belongings. While my fainter hydrated and rested in the clinic, I sat on a neighboring cot and battled the temptation to nap, because that’s the kind of heroic chaperone I am.

Mr. Drummond showed up shortly thereafter, at which point it dawned on me that my heroics did not include giving my kids an afternoon check-in place and time like I was supposed to.

Just as I was about to blurt out, “It’s not my fault! She had The Vapors!,” Mr. Drummond, who’s undoubtedly no stranger to lame excuses, said, “Your group came up with a check-in, so don’t worry.” I was equal parts ashamed and reassured to learn I leave a leadership void than can be filled by your average twelve year-old.

The patient called her parents, rested a bit longer, and then decided she was ready to get a bite to eat and take on the park. We met up with Will and four of his friends just as they were about to start riding roller coasters, and I debated whether to join them. On the one hand, I was a roller coaster veteran –my brother, L.J., and I had season passes to Kings Dominion in the late ’80s and I rode a coaster with the Roommates two summers ago –with a cool aunt reputation to uphold among a notoriously tough demographic. On the other, I knew a person’s ride tolerance could change without notice, especially if she’s had a somewhat recent bout of vertigo.  I settled it by adopting the park motto: ride on.

We started with the Stunt Coaster, a ride that features Mini Cooper-esque cars rocketing around helixes and getting launched through billboards. I loved it, probably because it’s the sort of driving experience I fantasize about having on the Beltway.

From there we went to the Rebel Yell, a long, wooden, 42 year-old coaster L.J. and I rode thousands of times during our season pass days. It was rickety and bone-jarring back then, but we’d always loved its steep and glorious hill sequences. When I rode it on Friday, its hill sequences gave me the same thrill as before, whereas the wood, which may have aged in place, gave me a chiropractic adjustment.

Then we rode The Avalanche, as a result of which I have ruled out “Olympic Bobsledder” as my next career move, and decided to finish our day on The Dominator. Corporate amusement park types are always giving their biggest coasters menacing names like The Dominator, The Intimidator, and Talon: the Grip of Fear, I guess so riders feel like they’ve stared down a terrifying predator and didn’t blink. That marketing trick might work on the middle school psyche but it doesn’t faze those of us in our mid-40s. If you want our demographic to feel gripped by fear, you have to come up with something far scarier, like “Root Canal: Dig of Doom.”

Thus I felt unafraid when I boarded The Dominator, despite its 148-foot drop, cobra roll, five inversions and 65 mph max velocity. I felt fine as we made our way to the central meeting point afterwards, too. After all, it matters not if your spleen and kidneys aren’t exactly where they’re supposed to be, just as long as all nine of your kids are.

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What do you get a kid for his fifth birthday? An aunt in a box, of course.

I’m not claustrophobic. This has proven to be quite an asset at several points in my life, such last fall, when I got an MRI; or in mid-April, when I again donned the Easter Bunny suit; or this past weekend, when I went to Atlanta and let my brother tape me inside an Amazon box.

No, I was not belatedly fulfilling L.J.’s most heartfelt childhood wish: I wanted to surprise my nephew, B, who was celebrating his fifth birthday (though I’m sure my brother has waited his whole life for permission to stuff me into a box and tape it shut).

I had set a pretty high bar in the surprise department back in December, when I conspired with my sister-in-law and flew to Atlanta last-minute on a Friday so I could catch the opening of Rogue One with L.J., a Star Wars junkie. B and his little brother, C, had also gotten quite the surprise the next morning when they came downstairs to find me sitting on the couch. Now accustomed to the occasional random aunt sighting, I knew I would have to do something beyond just showing up and ringing the doorbell if I wanted to impress B.

My brother, sister-in-law and I started scheming and decided “your presence is your present” deserved to be more than just a goofy etiquette cliché. As luck would have it, the starter bike L.J. and Leslie ordered as a gift for B –the same gift I’d gotten on my fifth birthday, though my bike did not feature the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — had arrived at their home days earlier in a large box: perfect packaging for a special delivery aunt. 

I had booked a flight scheduled to leave National Airport at 6 a.m. Saturday morning. I can’t say that it looked good on paper — a 6 a.m. departure looks hideous on any surface –but I thought it wise to build in some wiggle room because, as regular readers know, I’ve encountered my fair share of travel debacles en route to Atlanta. I planned to arrive at the airport at 4:30 a.m. just to be on the safe side.

Regular readers also know I also have my fair share of sleeping struggles. Those tend to get worse if I have something on my mind, such as getting to the airport on time for a very important flight. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to bolt awake at 2:45 a.m., totally raring to go. I was packed and out of the house by 3:45 a.m., through airport security by 4:25 a.m., and standing in line for a vanilla latte at 4:30 a.m. (The airport Starbucks opens at 4:30; I think this makes them a very strong candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.)

I landed in Atlanta 15 minutes ahead of schedule, which was downright disconcerting. L.J. picked me up 20 minutes later. We spent the trip to his house discussing the details of our plan as if we were launching a rocket for NASA rather than a birthday surprise for a five year-old.

He told me Leslie would be watching the boys who, with luck, would be playing inside or in the backyard and away from any of the possible vantage points.

“You stay in the car while I get the box and some tape,” L.J. said. “Then I’ll walk back out with the box and you can sort of hide behind it and follow me up the steps to the door. You’ll get in, I’ll tape it shut, put the bow on it and ring the doorbell.”

It seemed foolproof, or at least reasonably likely to fool anyone who hasn’t graduated kindergarten, so I said, “Sounds good.”

Then I saw the box–estimated dimensions 4′ long x 2.5′ wide x 1′ deep —  and was instantly reminded of the “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” scene from Jaws.

This hunk of cardboard looked as incapable of fitting a great white aunt as that vessel did a great white shark, but we’d gone too far to turn back. My brother plodded up the stairs with the box in hand as I crouch-walked behind it. He put it on the stoop and held it open so I could get in.

When the situation is dire, people sometimes perform superhuman feats, and I pulled off nothing less than a triumph of human origami to get into that box. Had I not eaten a few too many peanut M&Ms the night before, the top flaps might have closed together perfectly, but it was close enough. L.J. started to put tape across the flaps, at which point the full absurdity of the situation hit us simultaneously and we were seized by a massive attack of the giggles.

We got ourselves under control – our plan only called for one five year-old, after all –and L.J. rang the doorbell. I heard him tell B he had a package and then read aloud the short poem-riddle I’d written for the occasion. The box flaps opened and I sat up, arms wide open in a gesture that would either give B a smile that would last forever or a lifetime of Zombie Aunt Apocalypse nightmares. He was surprised, and in a good way, once he realized what was going on and heard his mom and dad cracking up. B’s little brother ran off at top speed, which, in fairness, is what anyone should do if faced with a lawyer springing out of a box.

B, who was by now beside himself with excitement, grabbed my hands to help pull me the rest of the way out of the box and said, “How did you get here?”

“I came in the mail!” I said.Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 8.01.15 PM

When I told him I actually flew down on a plane, he seemed disappointed to learn even Amazon Prime has its limits. But our fun knew no limits on Saturday: we went to Legoland, partied it up with B and C’s friends and some superheroes, and knocked the stuffing out of a Spider Man piñata. It was pretty much perfect.

I have no idea how my brother and I will top this one, but I do know one thing: we’re gonna need a bigger box.

My funny Valentines

I regard Valentine’s Day with a bemused detachment that borders on apathy.

It doesn’t make me feel any differently about my relationship status –like most days, it has moments when I wish I had a partner and moments when I’m glad I don’t. It doesn’t make me wish someone would buy me flowers; I buy them for myself every week because I like having them around. And it doesn’t impact my chocolate consumption, because I make heroic efforts to keep that consistently high. But there is one thing I look forward to every Valentine’s Day: the writing of the annual poem for the Roommates.

As regular readers know, when I was getting divorced in July of 2011, I moved in to my sister Lynne’s house and spent nine months living with my her, my brother-in-law, and their two kids, whom I affectionately dubbed the Roommates. Emily and Timothy, who were eight and six when I moved in, not only didn’t mind having their aunt as a boarder but saw it as a familial upgrade.

As an expression of my gratitude, I tried to lend a hand with the kids when I could, meeting them at the bus stop, helping with homework, or chauffeuring them to their activities, but no amount of pitching in for Emily and Timothy could come close to the support those two gave me. They helped me unpack and decorate my room, ran errands with me, and always kept me fully stocked with hugs and laughs. When I was at my lowest, they made me feel important and loved.

So when Valentine’s Day rolled around in 2012, I decided to show them some love: I wrote a goofy poem –an inside joke-laden riff on “Roses are red, violets are blue” –and taped it to the mirror in their bathroom so their day would start off with a happy surprise. A year later, I had moved into my own house but kept the tradition going, and it continues to this day.

Over time, the poems have seen a slight increase in structural, if not thematic, sophistication, migrating from “Roses are red” to limericks, to this example from 2015:

Ode to the Roommates

Roses are red (although some come in yellow),

But Cupid, he’s always a fat little fellow.

He flies through the air wearing wings, but no sneakers

Nor pants, shirts or socks, like some weird pint-sized streaker!

He shoots, a crime that would get both of you grounded

But not him. And his bow? Not so much as impounded.

Hearts are the things that he’s trying to hit

But I’m here to report that his aim, well, it’s ….(not the best).

He’s shot me a dozen times right in the gut

And arrows have left scars all over my butt.

But you’re not in his crosshairs, and I know the reason.

You are loved every day, every month, every season.

So while Cupid is out acting all totes cray-cray

Just relax, have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!

I decided to up my game this year and introduce the kids to a classic by writing a version of “Paul Revere’s Ride,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was a great idea until I realized that poem really puts the “long” in Longfellow, so for my and the Roommates’ sanity, I abridged it. The kids know I’m a few stanzas shy of a full poem, anyway. So without further ado, and with apologies to Longfellow, I bring you “Cupid’s Ride,” featuring a guest appearance by Buddy, the family dog. Oh, and if you find parts of it sophomoric, that means I overachieved, because the kids are in middle school.

Cupid’s Ride

Listen up, Roommates, and you shall hear

Of the antics of love’s puppeteer.

On February 14th of oh-seventeen

From north to south and in between

Cupid planned to careen, zip, and veer.

 

He said to his friend, “If lonely hearts stay

At home or go on the lam tonight,

Or snapchat or just fight against tooth decay,

Shooting my arrows will set it all right:

One in the can, or two in the knee,

Then I, high above in the soft clouds will be,

Ready to strike with a dose of my charm,

Through every street all about Franklin Farm,

Breaking in to those houses that have no alarm.”

 

“Now I’m off!,” he said, his iPhone in grip,

Ready to fly and to just let it rip.

With clouds creating a bit of a haze,

He decided to leave all the mapping to Waze.

To Wildmere he went, seeking Em Bem and Tim-o

(It might have been faster to hire a limo.)

His arrows were marked: one “her” and one “him-o,”

He prayed for light traffic – love dislikes delays!

 

Meanwhile, Buddy, through backyards and street,

Wanders and watches with eager ear

Till in the silence he can’t help but hear

A blunder –someone at the garage door,

The sound of cursing, the trip of feet,

And the sound of a cap, pried free of a beer

Ready to ease down a throat, with a pour.

 

Buddy climbed up the sofa, took his perch

On its nice cushions, made of soft thread,

To the top, on which he could rest his head;

He felt ready to snooze, then to lurch,

As the sounds around that nervous him made,

Who’s there? Dad? Mom? The cleaning brigade?

Atop those luxe pillows, all fleecy and fluff,

He thought, “Uh-oh, I’ve gone far enough.”

There he paused to listen and look down

Wait, has that pillow always been brown?

Oh look! Moonlight flowing over stuff!

 

Outside, in the garage, lurked the sprite,

Cupid, that is, not the stuff you drink;

Wrapped in silence and a bad stink,

Regretting that burrito last night.

With a most ill wind, off he went,

Creeping as if from Hades sent,

Not pausing to whisper, “Mind the smell!”

Next moment, Buddy, he felt the spell

Of the place and the hour- it wasn’t right;

Would he be blamed? Just maybe he might.

Then suddenly all his thoughts were bent

On a chubby angel inches away

In the spot where Buddy liked to play,

Wearing white, bow and arrow in hand-

Did he have some sort of nude attack planned?

 

Meanwhile, impatient to take aim and shoot,

Cupid had had it with this galoot.

Right in the door then walked Tim-o and Em:

The true targets of the pudgy brute,

Who gazed on the kids and said, “Ahem.”

Then, for flair, he stamped the earth

And turned to suck in his extra girth;

They watched him whip, then watched him nae-nae,

But when he grabbed his bow, Em said, “Hey, hey,

Could you put that down? You’re making me sweat.”

He said, “OMG, this ain’t nothin’ yet.”

And lo! Near the angel and off to his right

Came a fur flash blacker than the night!

Buddy sprang to action, without snarls or grins

And grabbed the arrow, then ran out of sight

With his new toy, thinking, “Hooray, love wins!”

“Left holding the bag” isn’t always a figure of speech

[Welcome to Day 4 of a month-long, relay-style blog slog with my friend, writing partner and all-around instigator, Philippa…]

Before I launch into the story of something that happened a few weeks ago, I want you to know that the people involved are okay. I offer this assurance not because I’m a nice person, but because I don’t want concern for their wellbeing to keep you from laughing. Priorities!

The day in question, a Wednesday, began innocuously enough for me: I’d gone to boot camp, had a breakfast meeting with a young man I’m mentoring, and was en route to the office by way of my sister Lynne’s house. My brother-in-law, who normally works from home, was away on business so I’d offered to come by and walk Buddy, the family dog. Before I even reached the house, I’d gotten a distress call from Lynne: the eye infection my 13 year-old niece, Emily, had developed weeks earlier wasn’t responding to treatment. Em’s opthamologist had seen her that morning, dilated her pupils, and been unable to give a diagnosis. He advised Lynne to take her to the emergency room at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, where he knew more specialized testing could be done. The possibilities he had mentioned sent my sister on an ill-advised tour of Web MD, which did nothing other than qualify her to be Grand Marshall of the Parade of Horribles.

My sister tried to sound calm when she said, “Can you go with me?” but a crack in her voice gave her away.

I said, “Of course,” then made arrangements to work on the road, took Buddy for a quick walk, and executed Lynne’s instructions to pack a cooler for what was bound to be a long day.

Fifteen minutes later, Lynne and Emily walked through the door. My sister looked like she was hanging on by dental floss. Emily looked like a zombie, and a rather hip one because she was wearing a pair of sunglasses. The shades were meant to combat the photosensitivity that was making her nauseous, but they also seemed to mute her personality, and that worried me as much as anything. Emily’s not just the sunniest teenager I know, she’s the sunniest human I know. While waiting for Lynne and Em to arrive, I had given in to the WebMD temptation too, causing unhelpful phrases like “permanent loss of vision” to lodge themselves in my brain. But I knew I couldn’t telegraph my terror. I acted falsely upbeat instead, making lame jokes about this being just another of our wacky dates.  I grabbed the cooler and opened the door for Emily, who zombie-stepped through it. Buddy, who is nothing if not a team player, rocketed through the open door and into the un-fenced front yard. Saddled with the cooler, I was slow to give chase and didn’t see where he’d gone.

As I dropped the cooler and looked frantically left and right, I heard Lynne yell, “NOT THE BARF! NOT THE BARF!”

Using the powers of deduction that have gotten me so far in this life, I grasped that Emily, who was leaning against the house, had gotten sick and Buddy was headed straight for the sick. On the upside, at least we knew where to find him. As Lynne chased him away from the Superfund site, Buddy, inspired by the generally festive atmosphere, decided it was the perfect time for a game of tag. Five minutes and fourteen Beggin’ Strips later, Buddy was in the house and we were in the car. I got in the backseat with Emily and my sister proceeded to drive like she was auditioning for the lead in a “Dukes of Hazzard” revival.

Our trip to Baltimore suffered a second setback when Emily’s nausea returned. I scoured the backseat for possible biohazard containers and found only a lone plastic grocery bag. My hope that we wouldn’t need it was dashed even before I’d finished forming it, and then I found myself doing something that is definitely not in the Professional Aunt, No Kids contract: holding my niece’s hair and rubbing her back while she put the bag’s containment powers to the test. (No wonder my sister volunteered to drive.) In that moment, I discovered that I have a superpower –I am not a relay puker, hooray! –but this particular bag had met and exceeded its limits. So there I was, left holding not just a bag, but a bag that had sprung a small leak. Though we weren’t even 30 minutes into our trip and were just crossing the American Legion Bridge, my sister and I agreed we needed to exit.

“How ’bout Carderock?” I said, referring to a stretch along the Potomac near the Maryland side of Great Falls. “It’ll take a few minutes to get there once you exit, but I’ve parked there to hike and I know they have bathrooms.” I was right on both counts. It took what felt like an eternity to get there, but the park did have bathrooms. Em could hardly wait to get out and I could hardly wait to get rid of our revolting parcel.

She and I got out of the car, and that’s when I noticed the “Trash-Free Park” signs. And sure enough, as I made a desperate scan for trashcans, I found only posters admonishing me to take my trash with me.

“But have you seen my trash?” I said, to no one in particular.

My niece and I went into the restroom, hoping it might be a Green Zone in the war on park trash. No such luck. The protections of the Fifth Amendment preclude me from telling you exactly what happened next; however, I think I struck a good compromise, in that it probably left every interested party unhappy.

An hour later, we had arrived at Hopkins.

Things had to get worse before they got better –every healthcare worker who asked Emily about her symptoms received a nonverbal and very colorful answer, villains like Multiple Sclerosis and lupus had to be ruled out, and my sister and I had to eat our bodyweight in M&Ms –but after nine hours the news was as encouraging as it could have been: a rare condition called nodular scleritis. As unlucky as Emily was to get it in the first place, she was extremely fortunate to be among the few people for whom the malady isn’t caused by an underlying and far scarier autoimmune disorder. With the application of medicine and drops, the doctor expected it to clear up over a couple of months and would monitor it biweekly in the meantime. A cheer went up from Team Yank, whose remote members had been keeping tabs on the situation and supporting us with a steady stream of funny, encouraging texts.

As we got in the car to go home, Emily sat in the backseat, exhausted but back to her sunglasses-free and sunny self. I volunteered to drive home. It was a nice thing to do at the end of a long day, sure, but it also guaranteed that I wouldn’t be left holding the bag twice.

Yes, my sister is wearing Em's hospital gown. In her defense, it was at most 12 degrees Fahrenheit in there.

Yes, my sister is wearing Em’s hospital gown. In her defense, it was at most 12 degrees Fahrenheit in there.

Writing hangovers, embedded aunt-ing, and other excuses for a nearly post-free month

Posting every day in August left me with a writing hangover, which is one of two reasons you haven’t been seeing much from me (though I did write another piece for washingtonpost.com, so I’m gonna count that). Family travel is the other.

I spent Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, visiting my brother, sister-in-law, and my two youngest nephews. Things have changed a lot since last summer, when I embedded for a couple of weeks at Camp Wipe Me. Baby C was an infant at the time. Now he’s 14 months old and walking with an alarming degree of both confidence and oblivion.

B is three. He continues to wow me with his expansive vocabulary—his verbal prowess really shines when he’s in the bathroom, a place from which he has delivered many a thoughtful soliloquy– his inexhaustible curiosity, and his tireless tirelessness. The Camp Wipe Me wardens manage on their own just fine, but since the job demands the negotiation skills of Henry Kissinger and the stamina of the Energizer Bunny, they always appreciate an extra set of hands.

Two weeks later, I was in Richmond, helping Mom hold down the fort at my sister Suzi’s house. (After 11 years of marriage, Suzi and her husband finally decided to take a honeymoon trip. I’m all in favor of delayed gratification, but if I’d waited so much as 11 months to go on my honeymoon, I’d have missed out on the highlight of my marriage.) The fort’s other occupants included three boys, ages 10, 15 and 16, and two portly beagle-ish hounds. In short, Mom and I were surrounded by hairy creatures who would pee anywhere if you let them. Unlike B and C, these boys had no need for an entertainer or supervisor, they just needed an Uber driver with basic cooking skills.

Based on my stints in both locations, I’ve observed a few things:

  • No matter the ages of the boys, you expend most of your energy in the same two areas: food and sleep. When it comes to food, you struggle to get the toddlers to eat enough of what’s on the table to keep them going. With teenagers, you struggle to put enough food on the table to keep them going. And you must always remember that both categories of boys will consider eating what’s on the floor. Toddlers see it as a first resort and teenagers a last, but it remains an option for both, making this the one area where the dogs can add serious value. Sleep offers another study in contrasts: with toddlers, you have to coax them to get into the bed and stay there, whereas teenagers have to be coaxed out of it.
  • Embedding with the kids is a huge privilege. Being there for the day-to-day, as opposed to a special occasion, presents a natural opportunity to gain all sorts of little insights into who they are. During a quick trip in the car, you might overhear conversations about girls they like, classes they hate, and who they follow on Instagram. When you pack their lunches, you learn about their food quirks, not to mention their sense of humor. As Mom and I were packing lunches for the teenagers on the first day of our stay, my mother, who can be as wickedly funny as she is sweet, said, “You should cut their sandwiches in the shape of hearts.” It was a diabolical idea and I loved it. Being the stellar aunt that I am, though, I decided my amusement might not be worth their long-term psychological trauma. I grabbed a tiny post-it note, wrote, “I almost cut this in the shape of a heart. You’re welcome,” and stuck it to the bags that held their sandwiches. To my and Mom’s surprise, the boys thought it was hilarious, and so did their friends. My eldest nephew, J.J., even saved the note, so I wrote a new one every day.
  • Sometimes the kids you embed with end up taking care of you. When I lived with my sister Lynne and her family during my divorce, my niece and nephew, aka the Roommates, kept a constant eye on me. My nine year-old niece joined me as I went out to buy laundry hampers and other nits I needed for my new life in her basement. Her sunny disposition converted a dreaded shopping trip to one of my favorite memories from that time. My seven year-old nephew, a kid whose gift for sarcasm kept him in constant danger of not making it to eight, showed incredible sensitivity when it came to my emotions. I tried to conceal my sadness, but my failure would reveal itself as a look of concern in his huge blue eyes or a drive-by, ostensibly random, hug. He didn’t have to understand my pain for it to be his pain. Realizing that he was suffering for me steeled my resolve to focus on the abundant good in my life instead of my misery. When I was in Richmond just a few days ago, J.J. and I landed on the topic of relationships while I was cooking dinner. I offered a bit of advice and then said, “On the other hand, what do I know? I’ve screwed up in all kinds of ways.” I expected him to say, “I know, right?” since he witnessed my marital debacle up close. Instead, he said, “That’s not how it looks to me. It seems like you always get it right.” The tear that came to my eye had nothing to do with the onions I’d just chopped and everything to do with this kid’s unwavering faith in me. He doesn’t care whether I made the wrong decision by getting married, he just knows I made the right one by leaving. It’s an honor to have that kid’s back, and to know that he’s behind me.
Luckily the Grinch and the sock monkey don't eat very much.

Fortunately, everyone in this photo is housebroken.

If You Ask Me, It Doesn’t Take A Village

Five days into my stay at Camp Wipe Me, I had thought everything was going well. Only last night did I realize the inmates had been lulling me into a false sense of security, waiting for me to let my guard down so they could pounce.

The toddler went for the kill first.

Things started out innocently enough when I drove him to daycare yesterday, a function Daddy normally performs but couldn’t do because of a work obligation. B and I had an absolute blast on the drive, laughing, singing and acting silly. I enjoyed it so much that I could hardly wait to see him again in the afternoon. When I showed up to pick him up at 5:30, he was beaming and holding a little bag of Teddy Grahams as proudly as if it were the Stanley Cup. Things were looking good.  We had a great ride home, too, and the word “Daddy” did not even come up until we were less than two miles from the house. When B asked where Daddy was, I explained that he had to work late.

B said, “But it’s not late,” in a tone that conveyed indignation at being left in the hands of someone who is clearly a big dope.  His comment reminded me toddlers basically exist in the present and have very little use for the future.

To create a diversion, I pointed to a nearby construction site and said, “Look! An excavator!” My gambit worked but I knew B had fired a warning shot.

We got home and B was excited to see Mommy, which restored my optimism; however, the balance shifted as I was getting ready to handle his dinner and he realized that Daddy, who often takes care of dinner while Mommy feeds the baby in another room, was absent.

Nature may abhor a vacuum, but B didn’t mind the absence of real authority one bit. In fact, he exploited the daylights out of it. He decided he was not going to deal with some low level scab trying to buckle him into a high chair and demanded attention from someone higher up the ladder.  B began to wage a hunger strike, and it wasn’t one of those quiet ones, either.  Mommy heard the commotion all the way in the bedroom and had to swoop in.  She whisked B upstairs and handed the baby off to me.

Finding myself in charge of an infant whose feeding had been interrupted felt a lot like holding unexploded ordnance. My only defense was a set of decoy boobs, which I knew wouldn’t give me much cover.  I prepared myself for the worst and proceeded with caution.  After a few quiet moments passed, I started to relax, which, of course, was precisely when detonation occurred. In Baby C’s diaper.  I didn’t grasp just how bad it was until I unfastened the snaps on the side of his onesie and saw that the devastation of the blast had reached as far as his armpit. The baby began to cry along with B in a wailing duet. I considered throwing myself on the floor and adding my voice to the chorus but decided to mouth-breathe and stick it out.

Somehow the other warden and I managed to quell the rebellion and restore order, at Camp Wipe Me, but the whole episode caused me to reflect on that African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” I’m not so convinced that it’s true. What we really needed last night instead of a village was a HAZMAT team to manage the cleanup and a SWAT team to subdue the terrorist.

 

In the hands of an amateur like me, this can only do so much good.

If Mothers Know Best, What the Heck Does a Childless Aunt Know?

Two days after officiating my friends’ wedding, I hopped on a plane for Atlanta.

My brother and his wife live in the suburbs there and welcomed their son, Baby C, just four weeks ago. Since they already have a two year-old boy, B, running around, I figured they could use an extra set of hands around the house.

I was right.  My hands have been put to immediate use here at Camp Wipe Me, where I currently serve as Deputy Toddler Wrangler and Backup Infant Handler. (As far as I can tell, the only qualifications for this job are opposable thumbs and willingness to buy a plane ticket.)

B and I have spent some quality time together over the past two years, so I was excited to have another chance to hang out with him.  I was surprised to learn that the kid now speaks in complete sentences. Of course, most of them are incomprehensible thanks to my brother’s belief that there’s no need to talk down to toddlers. Two of my nephew’s recent words of the day are “unorthodox” and “excavator.”

But this morning, my conversation with B didn’t include any exotic words and instead centered on my suitcase. He noticed that it was empty.  I explained that, since I was staying awhile, I had unpacked all of my clothes and put them in a chest of drawers. B is a firm believer in “trust, but verify,” so he headed straight to the dresser.

He opened the drawers as fast as he could and started pulling out random articles of clothes.  And then he began to put them on.  All of them.  At once.  He was clad simultaneously in a pair of my shorts, capri pants and a skirt before Daddy showed up and ruined the fun.

When I mentioned this episode to my mother, she said, “Why didn’t you take a picture?” I would have if I could have, trust me, but I had my hands full trying to get Tootsie to put my pants on one leg at a time.

Since I last spent time with him, B has also become a devotee of scatology.  As I changed him this morning, he yelled, “I wanna see it!”

That makes one of us, kid.

Anyway, my hands don’t have a whole lot of non-work time to type at the moment, so I’m blogging less. (Hey, at least it’s a new excuse.)  But I will be back here on Sunday. It happens to be Dad’s birthday, so the Camp Wipe Me inmates and I will be posting a special tribute.

Don’t worry, everything’s under control.

 

 

 

Child’s Play

I recently made another trip to Atlanta to watch my 19 month-old nephew, B, while his parents went to Las Vegas for a few days.  Atlanta usually enjoys pretty mild winters, but this year even it didn’t manage to dodge ice, snow and frigid temps.  Forecasters predicted continued cold for my time there.

Since the weather threatened to take the playground and other outdoor fun out of the equation, I decided to be prepared.  Days before I headed south, I began to look for interesting stuff to do indoors with my little pal.

I generated a list that included the usual suspects, like Catch Air.  If you haven’t had the privilege, Catch Air is one of those inflatable play zones that features things like slides, rides and a ball pit and, frankly, oughtta be called Catch Hand Foot And Mouth Disease. B loves Catch Air, but since I’ve taken him there before, I kept my eyes peeled for something a little more off the beaten path.

I found it in the form of Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts.  It has exhibits, a make-your-own puppet workshop, and family-friendly shows. It looked very cool, as toddler entertainment goes.

I sent an email about the puppet joint to my brother and sister-in-law.  They thought it sounded great, too, but expressed some reservations about B’s attention span.

“Don’t worry,” I wrote, “I have plenty of experience in the ‘Kid Activities That Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time’ Department.”

I wasn’t kidding, either.  The first and most memorable of those experiences came about nearly thirteen years ago, when my eldest nephew, J, was just three years old.  At the time, J was a huge fan of the TV show “Blues Clues.”  (“Blues Clues” aired from 1996-2006 and helped put Nickelodeon on the map.  The show relied on the Mystery-Solving-Cartoon-Dog-Surrounded-By- Humans-of-Varying-Intellect model made popular by Scooby Doo, except that “Blues” didn’t have any human characters whose perpetual case of the munchies hinted strongly at a weed habit.)

It was the spring of 2001 when I happened to notice an ad in the Washington Post for a live “Blues Clues” show at the Warner Theater.  Tickets were $40 apiece, a price that gave me pause since I was living on a law student budget at the time.  But the chance to gain ground on my siblings in the Favorite Aunt/Uncle Sweepstakes overwhelmed my fiscal discipline, so I immediately forked over $80 and got tickets for me and J.

My sister wanted to make sure J enjoyed the experience, so she hyped “Blues Clues Live” pretty hard in the days leading up to it.  Her campaign generated so much excitement that J barely slept the night before the show and was seriously cranked up when I picked him up. I began to worry about how he would do once we got to the theater.

At the Warner, J and I enjoyed the GEICO safety exhibit and roughly fourteen seconds of Act One before he descended into a glorious meltdown.

He cried so hard he could barely breathe except to yell, “Aunt Wheat, you made me choke!” as I carried him into the parking garage, where I had to walk us down eight circular levels because, of course, the elevator was broken and the door to the stairs was locked.

That experience with J over a decade ago helped me build my mettle as an aunt.  But it played no role whatsoever in last week’s decision to take B to catch some air rather than watch puppets, I swear.

After our trip to Catch Air, B and I went swimming in a big pool of Purell.