AUNTIE MEG

March 10th, 2005

I just spent the day with three boys under the age of five. When I say my day, I mean my ENTIRE DAY, from when I woke (at the unheard of—to me, anyway, unless I have to catch a plane–hour of seven am) to their plaintive cries of “More Cheerios, Mommy!” until now, just slightly after seven PM, when they are being plied with Dairy Queen in an effort to get them to bathe, as they are covered with what one of them calls, “Dirty Beach,” before allowing them to watch their favorite show, FEAR FACTOR.

I've always wondered who watches FEAR FACTOR. I myself don't care to watch shows that seem to be about eating bugs.

Obviously, to four and three year old boys, this is the quintessential peak of entertainment.

Which is kind of funny, since one of them (the three year old) is deathly afraid of all bugs, and flung his arms around me in terror when a dragonfly made its lazy way into, of all places, the Margaritaville we'd dropped by to get burgers.

And really, if you are scared of bugs, and a dragonfly happened to buzz by, and you are approximately two feet tall, that would be the scariest thing in the world–sort of like being attacked by a pterodactyl.

These children are my husband's nephews, and they are visiting with their parents. They are very sweet boys—although the sweetest one is, of course, the one who cannot speak English, since he is only nine months old.

Although he does not speak English, this child does speak some form of language of his own invention, possibly a combination of Elvin from Lord of the Rings and Hindustani. Vocal ululations seem to be his forte. When we placed him in a swing at the park, he began making a sound not unlike Henrietta when she is at her happiest. I asked his mother why her son was purring, and she said, “God knows.”

The other boys speak English, but it is still hard to tell what they are saying most of the time. One of them kept muttering something I couldn't quite catch until I forced him to enunciate, and it turned out to be, “I am going to go to Skull Island on Friday,” Skull Island being the mythical island we'd made up in the pool, while playing “Elian Gonzales, Tragedy of a Little Boy Lost at Sea.”

“Elian Gonzales, Tragedy of a Little Boy Lost at Sea” is a game of my own invention, with its roots in, of course, Elian Gonzales's journey from Cuba to America via raft, re-enacted in all of its heart-wrenching pathos (well, okay, mostly just the parts where Elian is lost at sea and set upon by sharks and violent storms, which mostly involved me violently agitating whichever floatation device the boy playing Elian is sitting on, until he is ejected from the device and into the water) but updated to include the little known chapter where Elian was kidnapped by pirates and forced to be sucked down the whirlpool off the shore of Skull Island, which is actually the waterfall outcropping in the pool of my new house.

(Which by the way we still haven't moved into yet since we're still trying to sell our current house and houses sell better with furniture in them so we can't move till we sell this place.)

Anyway, the three year old didn't want Elian to go to Skull Island, because Skull Island was too scary for him (even though technically it is not even a waterfall, more like a trickle, but whatever). At some point during the day, however, he must have decided that on Friday, he would have summoned up the guts. Therefore, “I'm going to Skull Island on Friday” became his mantra, uttered whenever you asked him, “Do you want a hot dog or a burger?” or “Do you have to go pee?”

Which didn't actually answer those questions, but was amusing nonetheless.

Henrietta, of course, was locked into the guest house for the duration of the boys' visit, as every time she heard their laughter—for instance, when they were playing “Jail” in the living room, a game that seems to involve having all of the sofa pillows piled on you (if you are the aunt or uncle) while you don't move, because you are in jail, then requires that you shriek loudly while “a ghost” sucks you with a vacuum cleaner (actually a Matchbox car)—she folded her ears back and growled. Then ran under the bed any time anyone opened the bedroom door.

Henrietta sensed what I knew only too well: That I am no match for three children under 5. In fact, the whole experience taught me—or rather, REMINDED ME of–a valuable lesson. It is something I have known since I was 14 and used to babysit. But it turns out when you are 38, as opposed to 14, it is even more true. Because you are so much older and creakier.

And that is that hanging around with a bunch of kids for twelve hours is THE HARDEST WORK IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Seriously. I don't know how parents do it. I feel like I've been run over by a truck. Every inch of me hurts from being swung on, grabbed, stabbed with cardboard pirate knives, jumped on, and punched in the stomach (inadvertently—I think). I can't imagine how anyone does this EVERY SINGLE DAY, but apparently, billions of people do.

Well, I take my hat off to them. Parenting is WAY HARDER THAN WRITING BOOKS.

And I just hope anyone who is considering applying (to be a parent) thinks LONG AND HARD about it, because it is a full time commitment that involves blood, boogers, and many, many tears. It is certainly rewarding (funny purring sound the baby made; hilarious non-sequitors like “I'm going to go to Skull Island on Friday”) but the rewards can be few and far between when the kids are hurling sand at one another and you get a faceful, or when you are wading into the murky ocean and being hit by wave after wave of disgusting rotting sea grass because the kids need “water for their Slime Volcano.”

This realization (that parenting is the hardest job in the world) hit me when the boys' mother said to me, “It must be difficult, having to go on book tour and live out of a suitcase for two weeks.”

And I opened my mouth to say, “Yes. Yes, it is hard.”

But then I thought about the long, quiet stretches in airport lounges, with nothing to do but read. And the nice, quiet hotel rooms with huge TVs, and Rueben sandwiches from room service.

Yes, there are the book signings, with hundreds of people in line, holding hundreds of books I have to sign.

But hey. There are no children jumping on me.

What else could I reply but, “Are you kidding? Going on book tour is WAY EASIER than THIS.”

Because, frankly, ANYTHING would be.

I know we've all been raised to think that growing up and getting married and having kids is just what you do. And for some people—like the parents of my three nephews—it IS the right thing to do, because they are excellent parents, with endless patience, and seemingly endless energy.

However, not everyone is cut out to be a parent. I recognize that I am one of those people. I have looked into the bowels of parenting and said, “No. No, this is not for me. This I will leave to others stronger and braver than myself.” There is no shame, after all, in being what I am:

An aunt.

I'm going to unclog the sand from the hydromassage jets in my bathtub now.

More later.

Much love,

Meg