My, How They’ve Grown

February 7, 2010 at 1:45 pm (Sweet sticky things, Waxing Nostalgic)

After a less-than-stellar Christmas, the family deserved a holiday. Since we are of the get-it-while-you-can school of thought, we chose this weekend to make up for it.

Thursday was my niece’s birthday, she turned twelve. It seems not that long ago I was sitting around with my buddy Curtis, drinking forties and keeping my nephew amused while waiting for the phone call. When it came, we all huddled around the phone and listened to her first cries. My nephew was so cute in his Batman pajamas; running around the apartment, fighting crime and making sure the adults behaved themselves. After watching my nephew’s birth, I was okay with hearing the next kid’s from a distance.

Fast-forward twelve years. My, how they’ve grown.

Thursday I had the house to myself. The adults (except for me) were working, and the kids were in school. It gave me time to rendezvous with a buddy who printed up a couple tee shirts with a picture of my niece’s hamster on them. (One looks like little Hamtorro is bursting from her chest, a la Alien.) I also bought a huge lasagna, and baked it so it would be ready when the troops came home.

One of my niece’s wishes for her birthday? That we go out to dinner as a family. Since dinner was already cooked, would it be okay to do it Friday or Saturday?

Of course!

Friday was another fustercluck day, with me running errands, getting paid. Sister had similar errands to run. School. My nephew had plans. Can we do dinner on Saturday?

Of course, we can do that! It worked better for me anyway, and my niece was okay with it.

As I finished up my errands Friday night, I had to make a stop at the local Freddy’s. As I crossed the intersection where everyone gets killed, I heard my name being called. I looked around. Some tall guy in a trenchcoat was coming toward me acting friendly. Who the hell are you-

It was my nephew, the one that lives across the hall from me! I didn’t recognize him at first. He’s taller than I am, and he doesn’t turn sixteen until next month.

We gave each other the update: He was with a friend, buying a videogame and then heading to another friend’s house. It was odd seeing him out of his element; emerging from his room for snacks and back to the video console. The kid could pump iron with his thumbs. I alerted him that I’d be mentioning to his mother that I’d seen him. That way he can have his story ready…

When I got home, I clued mom in. “Oh, really?” This adventure was news to her.

“If he were up to mischief he probably wouldn’t have chased me down to say hello. I got no bad vibe from it. Hell, look at all the running around I used to do when I was his age. And I had a car!”

She gave me that mother’s look. “That’s exactly what I’m worried about. Thanks to you, I couldn’t get away with shit after mom figured out your tricks!”

“Yeah, and the tricks have only gotten better over time. We just have to trust…”

My niece is another story. The kids really are Bart and Lisa Simpson. My niece is kind, loving, a vegetarian in principle. (Fish sticks and Italian meat sauce are okay.) She is more into studying and school than my nephew, but if he finds something that interests him, he will hit the books. (Sounds very familiar.) She reads herself to sleep.

Saturday was a hectic day. It was our last chance to meet for the big family dinner. Dinner at home is slapdash; you eat when you’re hungry or when you get home. We rarely have meals all together, and when we do it’s an occasion. We decided to make Saturday an occasion.

I stayed home with my niece until her father returned. They teamed up to buy groceries while I took the MAX downtown to run errands. As I sat waiting for the train home, my cell phone rang. It was my sister. We would be rendezvousing at the house, then heading to the Super Giant Asian Buffet.

As I rode the train home, I plugged in the MP3 player to drown out the group of kids rapping around me. Page/Plant’s Middle Eastern-flavored version of Kashmir came on, and I began thinking of buffets, Indian and otherwise. I began missing Mizelle, and could feel a puddle forming. For a while we’d spent nearly every Saturday night (among others) at the Grand Buffet at Eastport Plaza. If she weren’t in France she’d be coming to this dinner, but she’s got her own baby and hubby to tend to now. Goddammit I miss her sometimes. The young girl sitting sideways in front of me must have seen the look on my face through my sunglasses. She stopped rapping and sat quietly. Bless you, my child.

I managed to get home without getting all emotional (sniff) and the gang was waiting. We piled into the DeathProof-mobile and made our way to the buffet, arriving after the blue-hair special and before the Saturday night church crowd. It always pleases me to watch the kids acting like such adults when we are out in public. Where the hell did they learn manners? Amazing.

Protip: If you leave 15% for the nice man who buses your table, he will treat you like a god. Buffet waiters work as hard (or harder) than regular waiters, and the average tip for a table of 5-7 was three dollars? I may have put our waiter into a new tax bracket.

We lingered over dinner as long as possible, but we still had missions to accomplish, like the family laundry. We have a washer but no dryer, so after washing everything we send it with the bro-in-law to the laundromat. I get to hang with the niece a bit more while the adults finish up the weekly chores. It’s the kind of family responsibility I embrace. I remind myself that soon they will be grown and out of the house. Hell, everytime I cross paths with my nephew in the hallway I have to notch my neck back further just to see him up there! And my niece will be boy-crazy soon. Yikes.

I’m enjoying them while they’re young, and their young-time is dwindling. Without them in my life? I’d probably be dead. Having children around the house made us clean up our ways. I stopped drinking when my nephew, in his wisdom, gave this response when I asked him what he thought of my drinking: “I think you shouldn’t do it anymore.”

Of all the people in this world who have told me that, his words carried the most weight. His little sister couldn’t verbalize yet, but I could see my behavior was scaring her. They were the two best reasons for me to change my ways, and I don’t regret it a second. I may continue to be Mister Good Bad Example, but it will not be from leading by example. They can remember what an asshole I am when I drink, and hopefully those memories are dim.

Thank you, my family. You make getting up in the morning worthwhile.

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