Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

What “housebreaking” really means, and other lessons from my latest adventures in aunt-ing

Late January found me and my parents at the home of my brother, L.J., in the suburbs of Atlanta, gearing up to spend a week watching my two little nephews while their parents took a brief vacation.

I always look forward to embedded aunt stints, which I have a chance to do once or twice a year with B and C. As I learned while living with the Roommates for nine months in 2011, doing everyday life stuff with kids lets you get to know them in a way that big family gatherings and high holiday celebrations just can’t. You find out which stuffed animals they like to cuddle with, which books are their favorite (hint: the ones that grate on your nerves the first time you read them aloud and, by the 132nd rendition, make you pray for spontaneous human combustion), that they would eat spaghetti and meatballs for dinner twelve days a week, and that a “Do Re Mi” sing-along sounds best when half the chorus is belting it out from the tub.

The boys are now far more self-sufficient than they were just two years ago, when I referred to their house as Camp Wipe Me. They’re potty-trained, can dress themselves (never mind that C occasionally puts his pants on backwards and likes to keep them that way, even when the drawstring sticks out from the back like a handle), and know which room to go to when you bring them to school.

Though the physical demands of the job have decreased, you still have to be pretty sharp mentally. The importance of the latter asserted itself on a Tuesday morning, two days into our stint, as I was hurrying to B out the door so he’d get to school on time. We were running five minutes late by the time we hopped into L.J. and Leslie’s SUV and got B buckled up. Having not slept all that well the night before, I was operating in a bit of a haze: C had woken up at 2 am, scared, and in a bid for reassurance, sprinted into the guest room and launched himself onto his sleeping aunt. (He found comfort quickly, but I’m still waiting for my heart rate to slow down.) Though less than fully alert, I’d been driving the SUV for two days and knew it was a tight fit in the garage. I also knew that I could get a bit of extra breathing room by hitting a button to fold back the side mirrors.

As I started the car, B, who’s very perceptive and may have noticed that his aunt’s cognitive wheels were turning slowly, reminded me to open the garage door before backing out.

“Thanks, buddy,” I said, hitting the correct button while I was thinking about it. I began to ease the car out of the garage.

Mom was standing at the door that leads from the house to the garage, waving goodbye to B, who said, “Roll the window down, Aunt Wheat!”

Wanting to wave goodbye to your grandmother struck me as perfectly reasonable, so I hunted around for the button to lower B’s window. In doing so, I diverted my attention from the job of backing up, a decision that now strikes me as less than reasonable. And speaking of striking, that’s exactly what I did to the frame of L.J. and Leslie’s garage door as I backed out.

The driver’s side mirror, which I’d forgotten to fold back, sent a big, white hunk of something –wood, plastic, I didn’t know –flying. Mortified, I gasped. My next thought was of B, whom I hoped hadn’t noticed. My nephew likes things just so, by which I mean intact, and this was the sort of thing that might upset him.

“YOU BROKE THE HOUSE!” B yelled, confirming that yes, he noticed. “What are we going to do?” He sounded on the verge of tears. On realizing I’d not only taken out a chunk of the house but also the mirror, I felt like crying, too. Yet I found it oddly comforting that B said “we,” as if he were somehow my accomplice rather than an eyewitness who could give seriously incriminating testimony.

“It’s okay, buddy,” I said, more to reassure myself than him. “I know just who to call to get it fixed, and I bet they can do it before Mommy and Daddy get back.” I meant it, too, because L.J. and Leslie had thought to leave the number of their go-to contractor in case anything went wrong with the house while they were away.

“Does that mean you’re not going to tell them?” B asked.

And there it was: a bona fide moment of truth. Would I be the aunt who taught my nephew a lesson in the value of invoking the Fifth Amendment? Or would I show him that taking responsibility for my mistake in this case meant not just fixing it but owning up to it? I had only a split second to decide.

“Of course I’ll tell them,” I said. “But not while they’re gone, because I don’t want them to worry about it, okay?” He nodded, seeming satisfied. Perhaps because I was so busy finding the high road, I missed the turn for the road to the school. B, who’s normally an expert navigator, hadn’t noticed, either, which told me just how much the garage episode concerned him.

“Oh no! We’re going to be late!” he said, his voice teetering towards tears again.

I glanced at the clock and said, “Nope, we’re not. And maybe that’ll be the last mistake I make today.” We weren’t late, but it also wasn’t the last mistake I made that day, not by a long shot. But thanks to the kindness of L.J. and Leslie’s contractor, I got the broken house fixed before they came home. (I had no such luck with the mirror.)

This did not stop B from announcing, mere minutes after his parents had gotten home, “Aunt Wheat broke the house!” I hadn’t planned to make my confession quite that soon, but I admitted guilt on the spot.

My brother’s reaction spoke volumes and didn’t surprise me in the least. “You didn’t break the kids,” he said, “so don’t worry about it.”

I did not, in fact, break the kids, though I may have given them an enduring case of garage door trauma. But I hope I somehow left those wonderful two little humans better than I found them, because they always do that for me.

 

When I wasn't backing into garages, I did some extreme fort-ing with the boys. I wish I could tell you this is the first time they've gotten me stuffed in a box.

When I wasn’t backing into garages, I did some extreme fort-ing with the boys. I wish I could tell you this is the first time they’ve gotten me stuffed in a box.

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