Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Cry uncle

When my nephew R. was about nine or ten years old, I was sitting next to him at Thanksgiving dinner getting ready to eat pumpkin pie with whipped cream for dessert. I sniffed my pie and said, "this smells funny, how about yours?" R. leaned forward to sniff his pie and I quickly shoved his face into it. He smiled goodnaturedly through the pumpkin pie goo and accepted the ridicule of his family prompted by my prank. I was just being that funny Uncle Tim.

Inside, I am pretty sure that R. was already looking foward to the day he would visit me in the assisted care home, sniff the tapioca pudding and say,"Hey Uncle Tim, this smells funny, how about yours?" Then as I bend my gray old head over my bowl to naively whiff my tapioca he's going to shove my face into it.

But that is the price of being an uncle. Because it is not always easy being an uncle. And it is really not easy being an uncle to teenagers. When you nieces and nephews are little, all you have to do is shove their faces into food and say crap like, "pull my finger" or make farting sounds with your armpit to communicate. As soon as they become teenagers, it's another story.

By the time they are teenagers, they've heard your jokes a hundred times, they won't let you near them when they are eating and they definitely won't pull your finger. And although their parents can interpret their grunts and shrugs I walk away from most conversations feeling as though Washoe, that chimpanzie that learned sign language, would have been easier to chat with.
I say this because I am preparing myself mentally for my 13, soon to be 14-year old niece to visit from Boise next week. And I am grateful that Tess is on her summer break and will help me bond with my brother's daughter.

Meredith is the first girl in a long line of H**** boys. And she has always been kind of a mystery to me. On my annual trips to Boise around the holidays, the memory that stands out most has been this red haired blur running around barefoot in the dead of winter in her backyard chasing the dog. To the best of my knowledge, she never once "pulled my finger." She has, however, stared at me for years with this bored regal air of a princess confronted with the village idiot. My brother has never attempted to dispel this impression.

Regardless, I am looking forward to my niece's visit. At the very least, I am looking forward to having her discover that there is really much more in the world than Boise. And hopefully, she will also discover that there is much more to her Uncle Tim than the gibbering buffoon she sees once a year at Thanksgiving.

Or she will confirm it.
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