I Am a Little Sad Today
My 81 year-old mother would tell you that the reason she doesn’t look a day over 79 is that she was surrounded her whole life by children. There were the 16 of her own, the 54 grandchildren, the now 13 great grandchildren, and the host of other people’s kids who, through association with us, were always in and out of our home. The truth is that being around the young keeps one youthful. I, too, had hoped to be surrounded by many children of my own but that wasn’t in God’s plan for me. Instead He gave me two very precious youngsters on whom to focus. But in an indication that God is the master of comedy He also saw fit to place into my life thousands of other young people.
As a once and future high school teacher I have been blessed to spend my days in the presence of the emotional Space Mountain that is the life of an average American adolescent. And I’ll let you in on a little secret… They are some of the craziest, most hormonal, cattiest, angstiest, and bizarre people you will ever meet. But they’re also the most vulnerable, helpless, hopeful, kindest (when they think no one is looking), and beautiful people on earth. The funny thing is that I never wanted to teach and it took me several years before I felt comfortable saying that I might be good at it. Yet every single moment has brought joy to my life.
And every single moment has taken a few minutes back from the hand of time. Although the white whiskers in my beard and the white hairs littering what’s left of my mane belie this fact, very few people would peg me for 41. Those kids kept me young. And I’m a narcissist so there’s that.
But every now and then God surprises in ways we don’t expect. Two of my nieces (cousins to each other) are both college students here in town. Since they reside 1500 miles from their respective homes and their dear “old” uncle lives 5 minutes away I get the pleasure of seeing them all the time. One of the two even chose to live with us (saving on room and board) this year. They are as different from each other as night and day. Yet they compliment each other nicely. Observing their daily lives has offered me a glimpse into what it’s like to be 20 years-old today and by osmosis has made me quite relatable to the college set. I have learned that one can be an adult and have the heart of a child without possessing the mind of an imbecile. In other words, I’ve found a new rivulet running from the Fountain of Youth and it flows straight into my home.
Oh God, I’m Starving.
One evening last week I was straightening up my kitchen late at night. My wife was out of town and the college girls were sitting at the counter working on papers. We all decided that food would be a capital idea at midnight. Lacking Ramen noodles – I may have absorbed their youthfulness but I am still an adult with a job and some money – the three of us started searching through the cabinets and refrigerator. The conversation went something like this.
Niece 1: Nothing here.
Niece 2: Same in this cabinet.
Me: Damn, the wife left us high and dry.
Niece 1: I thought she said she did some food shopping before she left.
Niece 2: I miss her.
Me: The funny thing is that if she was here right now she’d brush past us, pull out a block of cream cheese, a crust of bread, and some spices and have a full-on meal prepared for us in minutes.
Niece 1: How does she do it?
Niece 2: I don’t know.
Me: I do… It’s black magic.
Then I went to Taco Bell and we ate like we hadn’t eaten since August.
As the Kids Say
Another benefit of living with these two is picking up on the current lingo. Over the past few semesters I have found myself dropping such words and phrases as “low-key”, “legit”, “get that bread”, “live your best life”, and my personal favorite “hoe”. On that last one, it seems funny to me that society has spent countless years trying to “re-program” the younger generation into NOT using archaic slang terms for prostitutes to refer to women. Yet, the college crowd could care less. They really have no malice. They’re just being mischievously rebellious. And it is quite funny to hear.
Whatever Happened to Going into the Woods with a Six-pack?
The things they do make me laugh. When I went to college I started smoking cigarettes. I don’t recommend it unless you’re in a seminary. I never drank until I turned 21. I didn’t go to parties because I wasn’t popular. I didn’t date because I was studying for the priesthood. I am now low key weeping over my pathetic youth – legit. Where was I? Yes… These kids have their share of fun. But the most intriguing times to me are the moments when they show up at my house with carloads full of their friends. My house is truly open to them and I love that they feel comfortable enough to bring them over. Clearly, I am not an embarrassment to them. And who doesn’t want a true home away from home at that age? They will sit in my living room sipping on hard seltzer (the legal ones of course – of course), and hitting something called a juul. It’s like an e-cig only more hip. On one such occasion my niece misplaced her juul. It happens all the time. The dad in me felt it was necessary to do what came next. I found a flash drive and handed it to her saying that I had found the juul. Maybe it was the White Claw or maybe too many exams that week but she was within inches of corrupting my files before I slapped it out of her hand. Her response to me:
“Girl, get that hoe outta’ here!” And then we laughed very hard.
There are so many other memories I’ve amassed from these two. There was the time recently when it became obvious to me that one of them had not seen a news update in months. “George Bush died?” she asked inquisitively. “Yes,” I said, “Last week.” There was a short pause and then “Oh. Well, RIP him.” Only she said the word “rip” before going back to her juul. I’m not sure she gets that R. I. P. stands for something. There was the morning when I returned from an early shift at work at 7AM to find one of them jumping on the backyard trampoline with my two kids in 30 degree weather without a coat because “they wanted me to.” There were the many times I drove them places and they each played hours of Youtube videos for my amusement the likes of which included a man with Tourette’s Syndrome singing pop songs in a recording booth. There was the time I discovered Cardi B and amazed them with how quickly I could learn her songs. Hint: it’s mostly the f-word repeated over and over again. There were the late night karaoke sessions in my living room because who wants to study? And on all of these fronts I have been humbled to discover that the girls think of their dinosaur of an uncle as cool. Who else knew all the words to Never Gonna’ Give You Up?” Hell, I’m surprised they knew any of the lyrics. Who else will jump right onto that trampoline with them even though he’s got a fused spine and probably shouldn’t? Who else will laugh at the most inappropriate things because he was immediately infected with their joy? Seriously, we have the most fun, low-key. But it’s legit.
It’s Never Really Goodbye (I hope).
Last week one of them went home for Christmas early. Since I was already flying up that way she simply joined me on my flight. Initially seated one row behind me, when the cabin door closed and we realized the flight was not full, I invited her to sit next to me. She handed her backpack over the seat, almost clocking the man sitting on the aisle. As I gently attempted to move it under the seat in front of me with my foot I heard the words “Yeah, kick that hoe.” And I acted as if nothing was strange about this. She looked in amazed admiration as I matter-of-factly ordered a double gin and tonic at 7AM. Glad I can be someone’s hero. Unfortunately, she began suffering mid-flight from horrible sinus pressure. I may have been legit litty – I was watching episodes of a show called Air Disasters on my laptop – but I noticed she had taken the air sickness bag out of the seatback and was reading the instructions. OK, 1) It’s pretty simply. You throw up in it. And 2) God, was she going to throw up in that thing? I placed my hand gently on her back and rubbed a little. She looked up and said “God, are you comin’ for me?” After landing we stood at the baggage carousel and she sang Tiny Dancer because, you know, it was stuck in her head and her generation has no filter. Before I knew it I was singing along. “Where’s my bag, you mother*&%$er…”
This morning I drove the other niece to the airport. Backing up a bit, she still had a paper to write and hand in by this morning. Two nights ago she had a friend over and I went to bed while they sat in my kitchen at their laptops. At 6AM I did what I do every morning. I exited my bedroom to get my coffee. I may have been in my boxers and a tee shirt because it’s my house and no one else is ever up that early. And it’s my house. I caught sight of the two girls still at my counter, still typing away, and ducked back into my room for a robe. Upon re-emerging I asked if they had been up all night and how long of a paper this was. “4 pages. We’re almost done.” “Girls,” I said, “4 pages does not require 6 hours.” Again, the dad in me wanted to say “Next time ask for help. I am a writer (in my mind) and you need sleep.” I hope the friend wasn’t scarred by the sight of my legit white-ass legs.
I know it’s only for a month and they’ll be back. Still I can’t help but think of the fun things I’ll miss while they’re gone. I am grateful they are here and I love sharing my home with them and being “dad” to them while they’re away from home. On that front I even made a point of showing my new Glock to the one niece’s boyfriend and regaling him with how accurate I am. “Son, I can take out a pair of walnuts in a small wrinkled bag from 50 feet.” “But sir, isn’t that an odd target to try to hit – oh wait…”
Merry Christmas girls! Your uncle loves you and misses you already. Hurry back. I need to stay young forever.