It's not that I have had no contact with children. I did babysit a little as a teen (nobody younger than seven or so). And at any family gathering, kids have always gravitated to me. I have a cousin who can still recall the ghost story I told her almost three decades ago.
I do well with kids ... once they reach a certain age I think of as "human". Children of human age can communicate in coherent sentences. They express their needs, wants, and frustrations in a language that is easily understood. And most notably, they are at least reasonably predictable. They'll do stupid things, of course, but you'll see them coming most of the time.
Proto-humans are something else altogether. They communicate, all right, but I would need considerably more exposure to pick up any of their language. They have the attention span of gnats on speed. And they are UTTERLY unpredictable. They'll do something downright dangerous without any warning at all, not because they spit in the face of danger but because they're too young to understand what danger is.
That last part is what terrifies me. In fact, the nature and level of the fear is roughly akin to that I get contemplating driving a car, and for much the same reason: at any second you can expect a small child in your care or a driver in your sight to do something so patently insane that there's simply no guarding against it. I have enough trouble understanding how drivers can process such a nearly infinite number of variables and have a response ready for each one. Parents of young children are basically driving cars with no brakes and wonky steering. All day, every day.
My nieces, Alexa and Lily, are four and two and adorable.
They have very distinct personalities, and if I'm right, both of them are going to go a long way in the world, in different directions.
Alexa is an old soul, receptive to and respectful of feelings. She's courteous and caring and (today at least) she was very well-behaved. Alexa has a healthy dose of caution and an even healthier dose of bravery to overcome her fears.
Lily is a force. A totally fearless force. She's so unlike me at her or any age that I'm honestly in awe of her: she will fall, hurt herself, shriek for fifteen seconds or so, gather herself together...and go right back to doing whatever it was she hurt herself doing in the first place. Like as not, she'll succeed at it the second time. Even if it's...I'm getting ahead of myself.
Further analysis of Lily's personality I will leave to her parents: she's still in that proto-human stage. Today was the first day she was able to repeat "Uncle Ken" and "Aunt Eda", which amazed and melted me.
Alexa called Eva "E'a" at Lily's age; at four years old, Alexa's current age, I was still of the opinion that ninety percent of English words began with the letter B. Cars were bars and trucks were bups and Gramma was Bumma (she loved that, I'm sure). Both my nieces are so far ahead of where I was at their age that it's humbling and a little frightening.
Smart children or not, I was still very worried about taking them to a Stratford park and playground for a picnic. Very worried. I was reasonably certain I could outrun either of them, but VERY certain I couldn't if they ran in different directions. Knowing Lily, she'd defy all the laws of physics and get the playground swing all the way around. Then she'd fall out. And trying to pay attention to both of them, at all times? I was strung out before I even started.
So we did the playground.
Lily loves the swings
Alexa would alternately beg to be pushed high and then say she was too high and beg to stop. Lily could have swung all day with the same ecstatic grin on her face.
After some swings and slides, we decided to break out the picnic:
...which was yummy. Alexa liked Aunt Eva's ginger ale most of all.
Uncle Ken packed up the remains of the picnic and ferried them to his truck. Aunt Eva asked for the keys back and Uncle Ken absentmindedly handed them over. Then, his mind still completely full of Alexa and Lily, he noticed out of the corner of his eye some things that he'd missed that needed to be stowed away. Back to the truck he went. The windows were all down, it being hotter than the hinges of hell, and he put the things, whatever they were, in the truck. Then he patted his shorts and froze.
No keys was quite a bit better than no Alexa or no Lily, but it was still a real problem. A predictable problem, to be sure: Uncle Ken misplaces things like this at least once a day, and more often when his mind is occupied. And Uncle Ken's mind was seriously occupied.
I mean...I wouldn't be a helicopter parent. I don't want to give that impression. I believe kids should be given free range to make mistakes and hurt themselves and yadda yadda yadda.
But these aren't my kids.
These are the most precious possessions of my brother and sister-in-law and while a scrape or a bruise wouldn't force Eva's brother to decapitate me, anything more serious probably would. Anything more serious probably wouldn't happen, but...unpredictable.
I recognize that after a few weeks or months of this, you probably develop a pretty good sense of what's worth worrying about and what isn't...just like after a while driving a car, you probably don't think about things like this happening (CAUTION: THESE ARE GRISLY) But things like that happen, and kids do the damnedest things, and...my brain hurt.
"Love, have you got the keys?"
"Yes, I just asked for them!"
Whew. Keys accounted for. There's Lily, where's Alexa?
There she is. Wait, now Lily's gone.
I'm not cut out for this.
Back to the playground we went.
This playground was missing the sorts of amusements I remember from my childhood, the tire swings and the teeter-totters and the merry-go-round-type thing I recall getting dizzy and puking on. But it had a nice assortment of slides, one of which I even tried, and some climbing walls, and a monkey bar ladder to a high platform that Alexa gingerly picked her way up, saying she was scared, she was scared, she was SCARED!, she DID IT! That platform was about seven feet off the ground and I was very proud of her. Then to my mixed amazement and horror, Lily started up.
She did it! She actually climbed up almost entirely on her own, with barely a nudge from Uncle Ken, who was absolutely convinced she was going to plummet.
Then she did it again and plummeted.
Right through my arms before they could snap shut around her. She landed on her butt, fell backwards, bumped her head, shrieked for Daddy for fifteen seconds... and then climbed the damned monkey bars again, this time making it up all on her own.
After that we went and fed some ducks and swans (sorry, no pics)...and then...we came home. And this is what I looked like on the way home:
Thank you, Jim and Ally, for letting me into your world. My respect for you both, already very high, has SKYROCKETED. And Alexa and Lily: Uncle Ken and Aunt Eva love you very much, and want to do it again.