Sunday, December 06, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Something positive! Can't have you thinking I'm all a rainy day, can I?

I have four nephews, all my only sister's sons (They are 13, 11, 8 and 4). I have always taken all the time I could to be 'there' for them. Teaching them all the things that somehow it falls upon an uncle to teach them by some unwritten law -- mostly the things that makes their mother cringe. But, I figure, screw her; someone has to teach young boys the joys of kitchen-cabinet chemistry, belching, slingshots, the really neat things you can do to an anthill with a magnifying glass and model glue, and of course, dirty jokes. It's their parent's job to make sure they learn to brush their teeth, watch their language and do their homework, and all that boring stuff, right? Someone has to show them how to be Boys before they become Men and have the weight of the world settle upon their shoulders with...ewww...responsibility.

And there I have been, all these years, in a position of both Authority (defined as "Now, guys, don't do this without me around, okay? Your father needs the garage to remain standing, and I'm a Professional.") and awe. Yes, awe. You never forget the look of incredulous wonder that crosses a young boy's face when he's first discovered that, yes indeed, farts can be set alight by a experienced man with a barbecue lighter, nerves of steel, and the proper technique.

Okay, so I've never really grown up. I like to sometimes pretend that I have, but let's face it, Men -- we never really do. I'm just a 10-year old with a 38 waist and a mustache. Most men are. We just pretend otherwise so that girls will like us, and stuff.

But, the youngest nephew, all of 4-years old, has really knocked me for a loop. He's my shadow (in much the same way that the eldest was when he was little), and several times a week, I get that afternoon phone call:

"Uncle...will come over and play with me?" It's delivered in a small, pitiful voice that screams loneliness, or maybe he's already learned that I'm a sucker and just won't say no, but pours it on thick, just in case. It's an ego stroke, I'll admit. Besides, I figure it's my duty, and more often than not, it's fun.

Usually, I get invited over to play Geotrax or Thomas the Tank Engine (he loves trains), and the routine involves me building the tracks, and then we act out the script of the DVD's of those programs that's he's just watched (he has an absolutely amazing memory for the details). He directs me and tells me what's happened in the little scenario, and I do what he tells me, and eventually, we have re-enacted the entire episode, every word, action and detail, and then it's time to go on to whatever other activity his short little attention span demands.

But recently he's been big on games. He'll sit still for a long session of games. Board games, card games, dice games. We run the gamut from Monopoly (suitably modified for a 4-yr old attention span; we just go around the board and whoever goes to jail three times wins all the money), to the classics of Chutes and Ladders, Old Maid, Go Fish, Yahtzee and even our special version of Poker. We laugh, we joke, he cheats. Oh, how he cheats! Like a democrat! He's sharp about it, even sly, too. And there's always an explanation of why he should be allowed to cheat whenever I call him out on it (gently and always with a smile) which is curiously lucid, and you just have to allow it because, well, that was a pretty great mental formulation for a four year old to make!

And it struck me just today, during a game of Poker-Keno, that I am watching the development of a little brain. A tiny person is taking shape, just across the table from me. Up close and personal. I was dumbstruck just as soon as I realized it, and by just how subtle the process is unless you pay very close attention to it. A month ago, he couldn't be bothered to count (although he could do so, at least to 25, always skipping 16, for some reason), and now he does so with eagerness. He couldn't discern the difference between a heart and a diamond, and now he corrects me when I mistake a club for a spade. I've watched him count pips on dice and then carefully and deliberately count out the corresponding spaces on the board with a serious precision. He comments on my strategy, and then even explains his own. He laughs when he climbs ladders, and giggles when I slide down, down, down the chutes. He boasts when he wins, and then explains how he came up with the masterstroke that finally sent me into a deadly tailspin ending in humiliating defeat (wink, wink). He announces grandly, "the winner of this game is the Champion of the World!", and does the inevitable Victory Dance before exclaiming "Let's play again!".

And then I laugh. Something I all too rarely do, nowadays. It's at times like this that I'm reminded that there are still things to wonder about in this world, and to laugh at, and they don't all have to involve bodily functions, table-top explosions or the death of a Kennedy, and that perhaps, I spend too much time spewing venom at the world instead of being appreciative for the little things. So, I want to thank my little nephew, although he may never ever read this, for giving me, I think, far more joy, and certainly more to think about, than I think I can ever repay.

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