“Good Morning,” whispers my brother-in-law from the dark kitchen.
“Morning? This is still night!” I whisper back. It was 6:30 on Columbus Day morning and I had already driven across the county to be here in time for him and my sister to leave for work.
I had agreed to watch K. & D. on their Columbus Day holiday, on the condition that my sister kept them running all day Sunday and up late that night before. As they roll out, I fire up the Keurig and drink her last K-cup of coffee (it was 6:30 — I wasn’t sorry), turn on the t.v. news at a low volume (why wake them?), and achieve a twilight sleep for another hour before K. appears in his cartoon-character pj’s.
He murmurs, “Hi Aunt Terra,” as if he finds me asleep in their recliner every morning. His first question has something to do with how many aunts he has. Adults usually wake with simple-syllable questions, like “Coffee?” or “What day is this?” K.’s first inquiry of the day involves reconstructing the family tree. I think I mumble an answer and hand him the t.v. remote.
We lounge for a solid 30 minutes before K. is ready to eat breakfast, followed by a tour of the “restaurant” he and D. have set up in the basement playroom. D. finally wanders down at 9:45, a full 3+ hours after I arrived (WIN!)
We screen “Hotel for Dogs” in the living room, where I am startled to recognize a number of Hollywood actors who must have vacation homes to finance. D. eats Pop Tarts, minus the crust, sitting on the living room couch, of which I am shocked to learn he is permitted to do. Not as shocked, it turns out, as I am when I have to clean up the mess. If, as kids, my sister and I had the audacity or momentary lapse of reason to eat anything crummy outside of the kitchen and left this kind of mess…it would have been corporal punishment for sure. Here, D. is king.
K. & D. are both excited about a trip to the park I have planned, so they quickly get dressed and brushed. D. comes down with crumbs still at the corner of his mouth, but insists he brushed his teeth. K. goes to check his toothbrush for dampness, and finds it satisfactory. Whatever. It’s going to be a long day and I’m disinclined to argue.
After a few false starts (“Where’s your gloves? Did you go to the bathroom?”), off we go to Tinker Nature Park, or, as they call it: The Woods. Both K. & D. got sprung for a day this summer for an Adventure with the Aunt. K. got a long hike in the woods near my house; D. got an abbreviated hike on the way to the Zoo. Both loved the time outdoors in a “wild” place.
Five minutes after getting on the mulch-groomed trail at Tinker, D. spots a deer tiptoeing through the woods. K. and I have to crouch down to see it as D.-height is the perfect vantage point. We quietly watch the doe until we can’t see her anymore – no small feat for two very excited little boys.
Over two hours of hiking, we see wooly caterpillars, two kinds of snails, hear lots of birds, identify moss, mushrooms and cattails, and watch a flock of geese land on a pond. The boys select, discard, and reselect several sticks apiece, and I show them how to run their fingers gently over plants in the herb garden to smell the fragrances. (I find out later in the week that D. told his kindergarten teacher that he went hunting in the woods with his aunt. Yes, he insists, hunting.)
We even spend time walking the labyrinth, a meditative path of bricks and small stones on a corner of a meadow. I walk the whole path, winding into the center, then back out again. Only once do the fidgets get to them when K. meekly asks me if I will be done walking soon. I answer, “I have to finish the path, and I can’t just walk right out.” Even to two little boys, this is a rational answer and they turn to collecting stones. (I will have to get them to put the stones back as there is strictly no collecting in this park. They have quite a haul, though K. seems to get it about “giving the stones back to the labyrinth,” and D. is appeased by getting to keep ONE stone.)
By now, everyone is hungry, including D. who usually subsists on tiny snacks and rarely finishes a meal. I portion the Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee ravioli 2/3 to K. and 1/3 to D., then make myself a ham sandwich. Then they want apples, cut up, specifically with the apple slicer. Okay. K. wants his peeled first. Okay. Can we have pretzels? Okay. And…now I finally eat my sandwich.
Kitchen clean, we retire to the basement playroom for Wii. I bring a book. They Wii. I drift off. The next thing I hear is, “Hey, I think she’s asleep. Aunt Terra! We’re gonna turn off the lights and leave you alone down here if you don’t wake up!”
We round out the afternoon by playing restaurant. I get “wine” (if only it were real) and an assortment of play-doh-imagined and plastic foods. The ambient music in this establishment is the constant replay of the Wii basketball ditty – when I ask whether I’m the only one annoyed by this, they look at each other, at the t.v., shrug, and say, “Yes.”
My sister shows up as I am swigging “wine” and eating a “salad” consisting of a couple of plastic hot dogs, a plastic ear of corn, and a plastic green pepper all crammed into a tiny saucepan and served with a giant blue fork. I say, “Thank you, this is delicious!” and I mean it.