I have the three best nephews any uncle could ever wish for. Nitro (10), Ox (8), and L’il Eddie (2) are my boys and I love spending time with them.
So when my sister started talking several months ago about attending the RWA conference in New York this summer with my mom it was basically a no brainer for me that I would offer them my apartment and I would simply truck out to PA for a few days of fun with the boys, or “Dudes Week” as I called it.
My studio apartment is just a few minutes from the hotel where the conference was being held so it would save them a lot of money. Plus, my time in PA would basically be like any of my other trips out there, just fun time with the kids. The one point I was adamant about from the beginning was that I would help out but that I expected the father would be taking the days off as well so that I wouldn’t be babysitting all week. I was clear I wasn’t coming out to change diapers and make bottles.
For months we planned and Elena and I arranged everything. We would trade places from Monday night to Saturday afternoon. My week as “Mr. Mom” basically began the Saturday before as I needed to scrub my apartment from head to toe in preparation for my mother and sister both staying there. Weeks earlier Nitro and Ox both told me that I was “crazy” for allowing them to stay at my place. “They’re just going to snoop through all of your stuff.” I was warned, and that warning stayed with me as I cleaned. Two days of cleaning and one last day of work lead to me racing to the train to catch the ride to Philly, which wound up being my last moment of peace of quiet for the week.
Come the end of the day Monday Elena is settled into my place in NYC and I’m on a mattress on the floor in the room shared by Nitro and Ox listening to them joking about how I should be in the room with their dad sharing his bed since I was going to be their mom for the week (for an image of what that would have looked like picture the famous “Those aren’t pillows” scene from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles but with John Candy playing both parts!).
I forgot to mention two key things I discovered upon my arrival Monday night: 1) Elena had basically left a “to do” list waiting for me and 2) Dad didn’t take any time off from work. WTF?! So the fun “Dudes Week” was actually “Uncle is babysitting week” and now I have a list of things that include L’il Eddie’s tutor coming by in the morning and watering the neighbors stupid tomato plants while they’re away on vacation. Again, WTF?! I fell asleep Monday night wondering what just happened and terrified of the first diaper change Tuesday.
I’m not joking about that. I haven’t changed a diaper in years. It’s one of the pleasures of being an uncle, you just pass the kid off to the parent when it’s that time and there’s no guilt involved in doing so. The question running through my head was if Dad leaves the house at 8:00am and is back for lunch around noon can L’il Eddie hold out so uncle doesn’t need to change him? How often will I need to change him? Can he make it through the day on one diaper? Two? And what about the dreaded really dirty diaper (you know what I’m talking about), will I need to deal with that or will the gods favor me and the boy will save those for daddy? I was warned to not let him eat oranges so those went off the menu right away. I fell asleep with these thoughts in my head and woke with the diaper dilemma still marinating there.
We were all up late Monday night, so the boys slept in pretty late Tuesday morning and daddy was off to work before they woke. When L’il Eddie stumbled from his room Tuesday morning I knew I had to bite the bullet and deal with the diaper right away. In fact, we both kind of looked at each other nervously with that, “Sooooo, how’s this going to play out” kind of look.
I have to admit, I could tell he was as apprehensive about that first changing as I was and I do believe that helped get me through it. I had soldier through and put on a good confident face just to make him feel better about it. After fumbling with the first diaper for a few minutes I finally got him cleaned up, got his little Phillies shirt on him (he likes to have a say in the outfits he wears each day, and he liked a new outfit with each changing), and sent him out into the world (or rather the living room to watch his kiddie shows). I made him the first of what would be many milk “bobbles” and he settled into his usual morning routine. In fact, all three boys are quiet after waking so the mornings provided me a little time to check email and pretend to do work.
Tuesday was a dreary rainy day and we just played inside, a lot of Xbox with Nitro and just goofing around with Ox and L’il Eddie. Things were going great until the late afternoon when L’il Eddie handed me his diaper while I was getting clobbered in MLB 2011 by Nitro. I looked at him confused. “What’s this? What are you giving me?” I started to panic. Nitro just turned from the video game and casually said, “Oh yeah, he takes his diaper off sometimes when he needs to be changed.”
“HE DOES WHAT?!”
How could Nitro be so casual about it? What happens if it’s a really dirty one, does that come off too? All new levels of panic flowed over me. Why does no one tell me these things? I reached down and grabbed L’il Eddie’s butt to confirm what I already knew…yeup, he truly had removed his diaper and wasn’t wearing anything under his shorts. Quickly I tossed the video game controller, picked up the boy, and ran for the changing table before anything else happened. I was carrying a loaded bomb and it could go off at any second. I needed to get it contained fast.
This was basically the next two days. Walking the gauntlet of messes that needed cleaning, diapers changed, bobbles made, lunches made, dinners made, laundry done, floors swept, and garbage taken out. But it wasn’t just me and the three boys, they also have three cats, a bunny, some little cage with some sort of rodent thing in it, and a big old fish tank. So on top of the three kids there’s a Dr. Doolittle menagerie of critters in the house too…and I’m deathly allergic to cats. Have been my whole life. I take 2-3 Claritin a day when I’m out there (one is supposed to last 24 hours). I can’t sit on any of the plush furniture so I drag one of the wooden dinner table chairs around with me and I have to be ultra cautious of what it is I’m touching and that I don’t then touch my face. I’ve learned to deal with it over the years, but it’s not fun and at the end of the day when I just want a couch and some TV I’m SOL.
After Tuesday I got the hang of the diapers and L’il Eddie and I got into a groove with the changing, although Thursday he decided he was going to make up for being nice to me the first two days and basically had a stinky little present for me every hour on the hour. I won’t go into detail, but they got progressively worse and I think he was doing it just to have some fun with me.
My routine established, I tried my best to keep the boys on a normal schedule and to keep the house clean and tidy. But every day I’d be counting down until their dad got home and “the responsibility” was lifted from my shoulders. I think that’s what I was really the most nervous about and what weighed on me the most. For a large chunk of the day I was responsible for the well being of each of these boys. If anything happened to them, it was on me. It’s a weight I’m not used to carrying. Elena asked me one evening why we weren’t using the pool in the backyard and I hinted at this. I know nothing would have happened to them, but I was still worried that something could happen. And it was there all day, every day, so I tended to play it cautious.
For all my griping about the diapers and the chores the week wasn’t without a lot of fun as well. I got to spend some quality time with each of the boys doing simple little things they like to do, playing Xbox with Nitro, throwing the baseball with Ox, clowning around with L’il Eddie. We went out and cheered Nitro and Ox on as they played in their basketball league games, I took the two older boys to see Transformers, and we all went to a Reading Phils game on Friday night. I definitely got to do the “uncle” things with them I like to do.
But come Saturday, I was looking forward to just getting home. I arrived home, unpacked, and popped into my local dive bar for a few cold ones and some time around adults for an hour or so before eating a quick dinner and finally crashing. I think I was asleep around nine or ten that night and slept like a baby through to late Sunday morning. They wore me out.
I still have no idea how my sister does this. How does she maintain the house, keep the three kids in line, handle all the errands and running around, keep a social life, take care of her husband (and trust me, sometimes he’s the fourth kid) and do all this writing? Maybe there’s a freedom and ease that comes with knowing they’re your kids? Yes, you’re still looking out for them but maybe you just learn that they’re kids and that things will happen and you just deal with it when it does and move on. That boulder of responsibility that I felt on my shoulders might just be a tiny little stone to them. I don’t know. What I do know is that I came home with a newly found level of respect for both my sister and parents out there in general.
I already look forward to my next visit with the boys. But playing Mr. Mom again? Not sure how soon I want that boulder back on my shoulders again.
(Note from Elena, thank you, brother!!!)