My nephew, who’s 3, keeps asking me when we get to play with booze outside. “Want to go outside, Auntie Beff! Want to play wiff booze,” he says, his face twisted pathetically – and effectively – to incite pity. My niece, 5, insists he means balls, but I’m pretty sure she’s wrong, ’cause every time I ask, “Booze or balls? Which one do you want to play?” he yells, “BOOZE,” which are my sentiments, exactly, since neither of us gets to have any these days; him because he’s 3, and me because I’m in charge of children by myself and, if anything happens, I don’t want it to be because Auntie Beff was all liquored up.
I’m spending the week at my brother’s house watching my niece and nephews – 5, 4 and 3 – while their parents take their first vacation in, oh, ever. So, despite the facts that a) my nephew has serious medical needs that require a kind of hyper vigilance, b) I’m a bad influence on small children, who tend to learn new and exciting words, like shit, in my presence, and c) my family is simultaneously running a betting pool to see when our new pet snake will escape since I’m apparently not responsible enough to even keep an animal inside a cage, I – I – get to be responsible for 3 more real, live humans.
This is how desperate their parents are for a vacation.
And this thrills me.
As in, this actually thrills me, because it means I get to spend extended, concentrated time with the weirdos who are my niece and nephews, something I haven’t done ’til now.
It’s not that I’m a particularly crappy aunt. I think. I hope. Although who’s really authorized to say? It’s more that I’m not the aunt I expected to be, which, it turns out, is a lot like being a mom, full of plans and expectations, most of which involve me being wildly awesome and perpetually fun and always, always having my shit together. Plans that look a whole lot more like only mildly awesome and occasionally fun and, really, very rarely having my shit together in real life.
So here were are, four days sans parents, and the niece and nephews are, as I suspected, total nutjobs, like good children everywhere. Which means they’re hilarious. Horrible. Kind. LOUD. Sweet. Mean. Messy. Magical. Like humans, except miniature sized, with all the glory and gory humanity entails. Thank God they’re almost unbearably adorable since one nephew’s a drooler, two kids poop their pants, and my niece excels at being leadershippy, like her Auntie Beth before her, who invented leadershippiness back in 1977.
That means I’m spending the week saying “swallow your spit before it falls out of your mouth, dude,” and “get your hand out of your pants; there’s poop in there,” which I always forget is more incentive than deterrent, and “I’ll see your Princess Complex, kid, and I’ll raise you I’m the Queen of Everything. Go ahead, sweetheart. See if I’m bluffing. I dare you.” And then she calls my bluff, which is discouraging since I’m almost always bluffing, so you can pray with me that humanity’s inevitable ruler will learn to use her power for good and not evil before she conquers this Earth and all the nearby planets. Amen.
What I’m trying to say is that I’m not keeping up on my chin hair maintenance regimen, like, at all, but, on the bright side, I’ve learned how to make a penis out of both train tracks and marshmallows which is apparently as simple as shaping your medium to look vaguely ovalish, followed by yelling, “LOOK! It’s a penis!” and is a life skill I was previously lacking, so it’s all worth it in the end.
And it is. All worth it in the end.
Isn’t it always?
Here I am with the nutjobs in the trenches, and I find myself exhausted, yes, and drowning in diapers and sippy cups, but also with this ocean deep sense of privilege that I get to stand in as caregiver for these crazies, knowing it’s in the waking up and lying down, the messes and the muck, the tears wiped and smiles shared, the trudging and the drudgery, that the magic is made. The imperfect, messy, muddy magic, which is always, always in the middle of the mess.