Last weekend was my son's birthday. He turned three, and although we had a nice little party for him, and he got some really fun gifts, I think the highlight of his birthday weekend was his cousin getting to spend from Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon with us. My nephew is right around six months older than my son, and since his mother (my sister-in-law) is our daycare provider, the two of them have spent a lot of time together over their three years. Simply put: They're best buddies.
I have to admit, I was also pretty excited about my nephew spending the weekend with us. For some strange reason, almost from birth, he decided that he did not want anything to do with me. He wouldn't let me hold him, showed no interest in playing with me, and generally tried to make sure that we were never within ten feet of each other. Around his second birthday, though, he started to warm up to me a little bit, not much, but enough to give me hope. Over the past year, he has gradually gotten to the point where he will run up to me when I go to pick up my kids, voluntarily give me hugs, and now seems to count me as pretty cool guy. I was looking at this weekend as a great chance to really cement our relationship as uncle and nephew.. and we did. It was great.
Having said all of that, I did come to a realization that weekend. I realized that as much as you may like or even love someone else's child, even if they are your blood relation, taking care of that child is COMPLETELY different than taking care of your own if it is not something you are doing on a regular basis. It is not that it is unpleasant; it is simply different. I'll try to explain it like this: Taking care of someone else's kid is like getting a dog that has been trained in another language. You know the dog knows all kinds of commands and tricks, and you've even seen it done, but you have no idea what you have to say to get it to do them. So it was with my nephew.
There are a few specific examples I would like to share to illustrate my point. The three kids, my two and my nephew, were all in the backyard playing in the kiddie pool. They were having a blast splashing around and going down the slide that attaches to the side. The problem was that one of them would be wanting to climb up the slide while another was wanting to go down the slide. This invariably resulted some tumbles and crying.
Now, reader, you or I would simply stop doing the thing that is getting us hurt, especially when it is so obviously an accident waiting to happen, but I realized I was dealing with small children. Their attention span for anything that isn't animated is almost non-existent. The only way to keep them from repeating this behavior was to make a rule against it. Time to do my daddy thing. I walked over, gathered the three of them, and told them the new rule was that only one person could be on the slide at a time. They all seemed happy with this rule, so I decided to seal the deal with a little breakdown, something my kids and I have been doing for years (for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a breakdown is when a sports team all put their hands in and shout something as they break their hands apart, usually seen in a basketball game at the end of a timeout). When I gave the cue for the breakdown, "hands in," my kids immediately knew what to do. My nephew, however, stared at me with a look on his face that I'm pretty sure translated to, "Uncle Nathan, with all due respect, are you friggin' high?" I forgot. He doesn't know that command.
That's a case of me forgetting that he hasn't been trained by me like my own children have. There is another example that comes to mind of my just speaking the wrong language. I don't remember exactly what it was I was trying to get him to do, probably put some pants on or something, but he wasn't showing any desire to do what I was asking. No problem, I do the count-to-three thing with my kids, and I know I've seen my brother do it with my nephew, so I started counting by saying, "(his name), One," no response, "(his name), Two," no response, "(his name), Three." Again, all he did was look at me as if I must be suffering from some kind of head injury. I didn't understand it, I thought I was giving the command the same way I'd heard his dad do it. Why wasn't it working?
When my brother showed up to my son's party on Sunday, I asked him if he used the counting thing with my nephew because I tried it, and it didn't work. He asked me exactly how I said it, so I told him. He kind of laughed and informed me that I made the mistake of calling him by the shortened form of his name, which to him means that we are just buddies messing around. If I want him to actually listen, I have to use his full given name. If only I'd known the language. I can't wait until the next time he comes to stay the weekend because this time, I'll be ready.