Nephews K. & D. are growing bigger every day. Spending a day with them now, at ages 8 ½ and 10 ½, is more like having play buddies than babysitting. Outdoor activities are usually good choices when it comes to boys who never seem to stop moving, and this past Columbus Day the weather was exquisite—a true treat for me, though I’m not above dragging them out in brisk, raw weather just to tire them out.
My sister drops them off on a sunny, 70 degree Sunday afternoon (after football) and they immediately run upstairs to ‘their room’, where I have set up a borrowed canvas camping cot. On their last overnight visit, the full size bed in our guest room was apparently not large enough to accommodate two squirmy boys, despite the bed having previously been large enough for two full grown adults.
D. thinks the cot is a fantastic option, and claims it triumphantly and possessively in the way that only an 8 ½ year old can embrace such a novelty. I give them each a small present that I’ve stored up since our last day of hiking: small 12 x 25 binoculars, an upgrade for them and just like mine. Our last hike through the springtime woods along the Genesee River in their part of the county was full of woodpeckers, blue jays, and a tree-nesting wood duck…none of which they could see very well from their toy binocs.
We put their binoculars to good use with a short walk down an old railroad bed trail that runs from the end of my street and parallel to the Seneca Park Zoo. Here, at the north end of the Genesee River, grows mature trees throughout my neighborhood and along the walking trail. A short walk to a spot on the path that overlooks the Zoo’s elephant habitat takes twice as long as normal; every scurry and rustle of every chipmunk and squirrel is cause to stop and lift our binoculars.
We spend a few minutes admiring the four elephants, and I learn, through demonstration, that an elephant’s trunk is equipped with a dexterous, finger-like appendage.
Then I point out to K. & D. a shard of pottery sticking out of the earth. You would have thought I showed them a dinosaur bone. I explain that 75-100 years, the inhabitants of my century-old neighborhood would have probably tossed their garbage down the gully toward the railroad tracks, and that would include broken bowls, crocks, and plates. (There also happens to be a lot of clam shells and, in one place further down the trail, the remnants of thick beer mugs from what must have been epic, mid-century, bacchanal clam bakes).
It’s not uncommon for me to find these shards poking out of the ground, and this day is no different. Both boys find several pieces of “pottery,” and soon my hand is full. Then their little hands are full. Time to trek back. The whole way, K. is puzzled by “pottery,” and when we get back the house I have to show him a crock in our kitchen so he can envision what these earth-stained shards looked like in a previous life.
Meanwhile, the Uncle has used this time wisely to make himself a gin cocktail and stage the dinner.
But first, we tie dye Halloween t-shirts! In the backyard, of course. Somehow we manage to do it with dye on only the shirts. It’s a miracle!
Fine Dining & Evening Entertainment
Time for cooking dinner. The boys are content to lounge with their devices running fantasy football figures. D. keeps wandering into the kitchen, iPod Touch in-hand, asking me rapid fire random questions. The topics vary wildly, from obscure geography challenges to anatomy and history, science and sports. Now, I’m trying to make risotto, and D. is like an impish Alex Trebek interrupting a time-consuming process that requires paying keen attention to a simmering pot.
Turns out I’ve been a ringer in D.’s Trivia Crack game that he plays online against my sister. I send him back into the living room and ask him to please stay there while I’m cooking. So he prank calls me from the living room. This is just one example of why I’m so exhausted after they leave.
The Uncle is onto gin cocktail #2 as we sit down to a nice dinner. Well, the food is nice. Well, The Uncle and I think the food is nice. I thought for sure that apples sautéed in butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, plus creamy risotto generously sprinkled with Parmesan, and steamed carrots doused with maple syrup would appeal to children.
I was wrong and this meal is, apparently, exotic fare for kids. (YOU want to come to my house for dinner! But, your kids don’t.) The Uncle eats K.’s apples, K. finishes D.’s pork chop, and I get to finish D.’s risotto, which is a small consolation for listening to poo-talk at the dinner table. The Uncle is no help here. And he’s moved on to champagne (not sure what we’re celebrating, but he seems perfectly happy.)
After we eat dinner, and I use that term academically where D. is concerned, it’s almost time for the big season premiere of our zombie series. I set the boys up on the porch with NFL on the small television, pretzels, and their fantasy football iPads in-hand. And I admonish them: Do not come in here while our show is on. If you come in, one of you better be unconscious or bleeding. They must be used to this kind of ultimatum, because neither bat an eyelash and both just say, “Okay.”
Bedtime goes smoothly enough, except for D. standing, staring, in the bathroom doorway while I brush my teeth. I glance his way. He doesn’t move. I glance again. Still there.
I gurgle: “I don’t like an audience while I’m brushing.”
D.: “I have to pee.”
Me: “There is a whole other bathroom downstairs! Go!”
These tween boys sleep fine on their own, but I don’t sleep fine with them under my roof. Call it latent maternal instinct, but when K. & D. are under my care, I just can’t fall into a deep sleep.
The sun is bright and the sky is a flawless blue, so in the morning my plan for another outdoor activity shifts from the woods to the water. They’ve never been to Durand Beach at Lake Ontario, and today will be an astounding day echoing summer. We all slather on sunblock, then I drive them the few miles to the stretch of sand where I hit pay dirt in beach glass earlier this year. I’m hoping there will still be some decent pickings this late in the season.
First, I lecture the boys about beach combing:
- Don’t pick up anything unless I look at it first. I explain there will be trash that doesn’t belong on the beach.
- Don’t wade or stand in the tide pools. As far as I’m concerned, this is stagnant water that’s partially fed by run off, and that’s gross.
- And for God’s sake, don’t put your fingers in your mouth!
Each boy gets a small plastic bag to collect beach glass, shells, and whatever else (within reason) he finds to keep. And, we’re off!
I can think of no better way to spend this gorgeous morning than walking through the surf and along the sandy shore. And the lake is generous again with the beach glass; there is so much to pick up that within the first half hour the boys have had enough opportunities to learn what pieces look safe to pick up. In fact, there is so much beach glass that we can be choosy and throw back pieces that need a little more time to be tossed and smoothed against the rocky bottom. Sometimes I find pieces and alternate giving it to K. or D. Sometimes I keep it, because they’ve got quite a haul of their own and I don’t mind adding to my jar at home.
Then something catches their eye, off near the brushy strip of woods that separates the sand from the walking path and parking lot. They consult with each other. Puzzled, they ask me: “Aunt Terra, what’s that.” Hmmm. It’s pink. It’s plastic. It’s tubular. Good lord. It sure doesn’t belong on the beach, but I’m not going into detail. “Remember when I said that there will be trash that doesn’t belong on the beach? Well, that’s what that is. Trash. Leave it alone.” Their mother can handle that explanation, or, more likely, they’ll learn on the school bus.
As usual D. is the first to whine, “How long are we staying here,” and I make a deal that we will walk to a certain tree along the shore then turn around and walk back. He seems satisfied, which is good because, also as usual, K. is excelling at this new activity and when he finds something he likes he doesn’t do it a little. He is finding a lot of unusual beach glass from so intently studying the surf and sand swirling around his ankles, but I have to remind him from time to time to lift his eyes and take in the endless blue sky, the soft sunshine on warm sand, and the rippling blue-grey expanse of water.
After a quick visit to the wood line for ‘relief,’ we head back down the beach. A pair of joggers pass us, one of them a wiry, shirtless, somewhat grizzled man straight out of a Viagra commercial. D. asks, “Is that his daughter?” I’m glad I’m wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat because I really don’t want to make eye contact with this couple. I say, “Hmmm, maybe D., maybe not. Look, there’s something sparkling in the water!”
We make our way back down the beach and text Mommy a photo of what she’s missing. K. wants to walk beyond our starting point to comb uncharted beach for more glass, so I let him range a bit within shouting distance while D. makes a couple of opposing sand forts (ants vs. ladybugs, in a nod to actual beach dwellers).
K. finally tears himself away from the surf and we head home to get cleaned up for a late lunch. The boys spread out all their beach glass and commence trading pieces. I show them my jar of beach glass, a lifelong collection, then present them each a quart-size Ball canning jar with lid. I explain that this is where they can keep their pottery from last night and their beach glass, and add to the jar over their lifetimes. They get far-off looks in their eyes, imagining the treasure to come with time and exploration.
One last adventure
Lunch is an adventure at the fairly authentic Han Noodle Bar. K. tries a few new things and D. adds to his list more foods that he won’t eat, though both do learn how to eat with chopsticks. It’s now after 3:00, and their 5:00 drop off at Mommy’s office is only a few miles away. Since this 79 degree day is one for the record books, I take them for a stroll around the Cobbs Hill Reservoir.
I try to answer one million questions about the reservoir, and continually dissuade them from rolling down the steep hill next to the walking path (“Why not?!” “Because it’s way too steep, there’s a ROAD with TRAFFIC at the bottom, and, well, dog poo!”) A young couple walking past us finds this pretty funny. Ha ha. It’s hilarious.
We have time for a walk through Washington Grove, a mature forest that is a secret gem nestled between urban neighborhoods. Of course, both of them have to pee before we leave. I swear, these boys are like dogs marking their territory.
It’s drop time and the hand-off goes smoothly. I have to get back home to catch up on a day’s worth of emails and postponed work tasks, finally closing the laptop well after 7:00. Because of the late lunch and sheer exhaustion, I skip dinner. Instead, I drink a glass of scotch and go straight to bed. One more Adventure in Babysitting in the books.