love. week nine.
city. new jersey
Ever since I got back from taking care of my niece and nephew, I’ve been feeling pretty down. Both mentally and physically (the two are usually related for me, and the former normally causes the latter).
A couple weeks ago, my older sister was planning a vacation but didn’t know what to do about her kids. I’ve been focusing on family a lot lately, so I offered to take care of them for a couple days, so that she could get away and have a nice vacation with her boyfriend. But, secretly, I also just wanted to take care of them for a few days lol I really love those kiddos, and I feel so happy when I’m with them. I think it’s my fatherly side that’s been coming to light lately.
I’d be lying if I didn’t also have the ‘love project’ in mind as well haha (I sometimes feel conflicted about doing things for the ‘experiment’, but then I realize that my entire life is an experiment, so who am I kidding?)
The plan was to pick them up from school on Monday evening, do their homework with them, eat dinner, hang out, drop them off at school on Tuesday, and then do it all again on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning (at which point their father would take over).
When I got to their school on Monday to pick them up, I realized that I had just entered a whole new world. A world of parents, and crossing guards, and drop-off zones, and 5 mph speed limits, and scores of adorable, beautiful, hilarious children. (To be honest, I half-expected to be spotted as a non-parent, an imposter! and duly thrown off of the premises.)
I finally got the kids into the car, with backpacks, lunch boxes, gloves and masks flying everywhere, and set off for home. On the way, we talked about their days, what they had to do that night, and even had time for a nice 20-minute karaoke session (Sophia loves to sing, Gabriel loves to ruin her singing by making ‘kh-kh’ sounds loudly).
I realize that I’m describing the most ordinary experience in the world. But it felt extraordinary to me. Gabriel kept screaming from the back seat “Go 100 miles an hour!!” while Sophia would patronizingly scowl from the front seat, “stop shoutingggg, you don’t even know what 100 miles is,” before returning to her wailing rendition of Bob Marley’s Don’t Worry. And just back and forth like that for the better part of two days. I loved it.
I got to help Sophia with her math homework (“Uncle Doni, are you good at math? Because if you aren’t good at math, then I don’t want your help. I’ll just call my dad.” Brutal. But fair.) And reviewed the ‘-and words’ with Gabriel (Roland did a one-handed stand on the land).
After dinner, Sophia helped me prepare the lunches and snacks for the next day. I’ve never packed a lunch box for someone before. Again, it seems silly, but it felt so important to choose the right things for Gabriel to eat the next day. I wanted him to have energy to learn well and play with his friends and not be hungry. I remember when I was his age, that all the snacks were ranked from coolest to most uncool. I wanted him to feel cool when he pulled out his snacks. And I also wanted him to have something especially unhealthy, that he normally wouldn’t be allowed to have. That’s what uncles are for, right?
The best part, though, was right before bed when Sophia brought me into her room to give me a tour of all her favorite things. She showed me her new lamp, the star-shaped lights that she wanted me to help her hang up, and showed off some of the Yo-Yo tricks she’s been working on. Throughout this, my only desire was to make her feel proud, excited, and talented. One of the main things I’ve taken away from my experiment so far is the power of attention, and the impact of inattention. When I was with the kids, I wanted them to feel that there was nothing more important to me (no text, or video, or work) than whatever it was that they were excited to show or tell or do with me. And that’s because it’s true. There is actually nothing more important in my life than those two kids. As a parent, there’s only so much attention you can give before you can’t handle it anymore. But as an uncle, I feel like I have the privilege of being the best version of a parent, if only for a couple days.
When bedtime came, Gabriel shyly asked me to come tuck him in. Oh, how the mighty fall! Just a few minutes ago, he was running around the house, shrieking his head off, shooting me in the face with nerf bullets, and now he’s all quiet, loving, and angelic. I climb into bed with him and read him a few bedtime stories. He asks me if I like his blanket (“It’s a cool blanket, right?”), and I assure him that it’s a great blanket.
He thinks that I’m doing him a favor, but really, those moments with him as he’s dozing off, and I get to be there to comfort him in the dark and scary room (world?), are the most wonderful moments in my day.
After he dozes off, I go check on Sophia and chat with her while she removes a face mask that she’d concocted. Again, the most normal activity, but for me, totally incredible. A face mask!! Just incredible.
The next morning, I wake up at 6:30 and see Sophia already dressed and waiting patiently right outside my bedroom door. I go into Gabriel’s room to tickle him awake and then jump in the shower. Afterwards, Gabe asks me to dress him. I know he doesn’t really need my help, but it’s so nice to help him. I don’t think I’ve ever dressed another person before. (He smells a little funny, but I just ignore that and pretend everything’s normal. Another perk of uncle-hood.)
We head out to the car, and the world is so fresh and cozy. I’m beginning to love these car rides. I drop them off at school (No biggie. All casual and shit. Just a totally normal day, dropping my kids off at school.) and head home. I’m actually excited to go home and, get this, clean up the mess we all made last night. Unbelievable. I’m excited to clean up someone else’s mess. I just want them to be happy and comfortable when they get home. They’re kids, they shouldn’t have to deal with adult shit, like cleaning and organizing. I know that they need to learn how to clean up after themselves, but that’s their parents’ job, right? I get to just spoil them :)
By now, CS Lewis’s words that “Love abolishes the difference between giving and taking” is fully apparent. A-parent. A parent. Lol. See what I did there?
My friend Gaby asked me how the babysitting was going, and I said something about how I feel like talking about love is just ridiculous until I have my own children. Like, as soon as I meet my first child, everything I’ve thought and said about love will just turn out to be entirely superficial. The little bit I know about being a father is that I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a father. Gaby disagreed, though. She thinks that love comes before having children. But, then again, she doesn’t have kids. So, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
I couldn’t wait to pick the kids back up from school. I loved seeing their little faces from a distance and then waving at them, while they run toward the car. Okay, only Gabriel runs; Sophia is more of a meanderer. But still.
Homework. Dinner. Prepared snacks/lunch for the next day. And then we got cozy on the couch and watched an episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events before bed.
Read Gabriel to sleep, checked on Sophia, and then out like a light.
When I dropped the kids off at school the next day, I told them how much I’ve enjoyed hanging out with them the last few days, and that I love them, and I hope to see them very soon.
I went back to a quiet house, packed up my stuff, and headed back to my apartment in the city.
And that’s where I am right now. I’ve always been shitty at saying goodbye, and this is no exception. On the contrary, I feel like a whole bunch of life was just vacuumed out from inside of me. But at least this time I know that there will be many more hellos in the future. I can’t wait :)
“She has taken my heart, she has taken my self,
she has taken from me the world,
and then she has eluded me,
leaving me with only my desire and my parched heart.”
- Bernart de Ventadorn