Monday, December 8, 2008

The Joy of Nieces and Nephews

Our nieces and nephew were over last weekend and we had a blast with them. They are 7, 6 and 4 (2 boys and a girl) and we love them to pieces. Every month or two, we take them for a day and plan a fun day with them. This time we had a Christmas-themed day. We baked and decorated gingerbread men. We also watched some animated Christmas shows (the traditional ones like Frosty, Rudolf, the Grinch) and afterwards, took a drive a local garden center that puts up a big animated Christmas display every year and walked through their animated village, which was magical. In the car, we listened to Christmas music and sang along. Then, we headed back to our house and had dinner together. Off in the distance we heard the sound of a firetruck and before we knew it, Santa was driving by our house in a lit-up firetruck handing out candy canes to all the kids. The kids were in their glory and the excitement was infectious. Of course, we made a big deal of the whole thing ("Is there a fire in the neighborhood?" "Doesn't Santa sometimes ride on a firetruck? Could it BE?"), which only got them more revved up.
The entire day was so much fun from beginning to end and it put me completely into the Christmas spirit.

After we dropped them off and were driving home, I was marvelling at how two people who love kids so much want absolutely no part of having their own. People ask us this all the time - "you are SO GOOD with kids! But you don't want any??!!???" And I think I finally came up with an analogy that sheds light on this.

For us, having kids is like going to Manhattan. Hubby and me love taking day trips to Manhattan and always have such a great time. We board a train with our friends and we all sit together and laugh and talk. And the entire time we are in Manhattan we always have such a fun itinerary of things to do. The sights, sounds and excitement are exciting and so stimulating. We are on the go. The noise, the chaos, the frenetic tension of having to stay on your toes and the unpredictability is such a jolt.

It's also incredibly exhausting.

I can honestly say that when the day in Manhattan is over, the sense of relief I feel in arriving home to my quiet suburban home and collapsing into my peaceful bed is indescribable. As great as Manhattan is, for us it would be hell to live there. It's too noisy. It's too chaotic. It's too overwhelming. It's too BIG. It's too man-made. There's too much going on. It's too unpredictable. It's too expensive. There's no quiet. There's no peace. There's no time to just be. Does that mean it's not wonderful? No. It is, but in small doses.

The same goes for kids. I truly believe that one of the main reasons we are so good with kids and what makes our times with them so joyful is that they are novel. Our normally zenlike home home goes from zero to sixty on the chaos scale as soon as they walk in the door. And it zooms right back from sixty to zero the second they leave. We like it when they arrive, and we like it when they go home.

When we are with them, we are laughing and entertaining and hugging and kissing them and chasing them and delighting in them. Our time with them is pure joy. But this joy and excitement exists precisely because we AREN'T parents. Parents may love their kids like nobody's business, but from my perspective, most of them are not really joyful in parenting. They are too jaded and tired. For us, every little thing the kids do and say is amusing, adorable and a revelation about how they are growing and changing. But for parents, the kids' antics are not novel or exciting at all. Most of the time they are too exhausted to play with them - they are too busy caring for them and correcting them to have the time or energy to play with them. Often when they do play with them, they appear to be going through the motions.

For us, storytime is a chance to delight and entertain them. For the parents, storytime is a tool to get them into bed so they can finally have some peace and quiet. From our perspective, there's just a huge imbalance in the cost/benefit analysis.

As an aunt and uncle, we get the absolute best of parenting without the worst. We get the arms around our necks and the I love yous that melt our hearts. We get to watch them jump up and down with excitement upon arriving on our doorstep. We get to share with them, and give to them, teach them and entertain them. We get to experience the excitement of being a child again through their innocent eyes. We get to enjoy the holidays with them. We get to influence them in a meaningful way precisely because we are not their parents. We get to watch them grow and change and learn and we imagine the adults they will grow into.

What we don't get are the endless hours of thankless and endless labor, sacrifice, expense and aggravation that go along with having kids. After a day of love, kisses and fun exhaustion, we can hand them back and save up our energy for next time. And when next time comes, we'll be recharged and ready for them with the same excitement, joy and love that they have grown to expect from us. We do not disappoint!


Anonymous said...

I agree! I have a cousin who is much younger than me and when she was little it was so much fun playing with her, but at the end of the day, she went back to her parents. If my BIL ever has kids, it would probably be very similar. Your nieces and nephew are very lucky kids to have you and your husband as their aunt and uncle! :)

CFVixen said...

What a great analogy (having children / Manhattan). That's perfect!

DH and I are uncle and aunt to 30 nieces and nephews. All of them are past the cute stage, except for the great-nieces and nephews (yes, we're only 38, but we have several of them!). Because most of them were born when I was in my teens, I did tons of babysitting. I had my fill of kids way before becoming an adult.

Still, most of of the nieces / nephews love it when we come to PA to visit, and some of them come out and see us. We always have fun.

Childfreeeee said...

Thanks, Serafina. We fell lucky to have them too!

CFVixen, that is SOME BIG family you have there! Holy macaroni!!!

firefly said...

You know, I've been thinking over this post for a few days, because even though I don't get into Christmas all that much, I have never had a hard time relating to other peoples' kids, no matter their ages.

And I think the reason for that is, when you don't have kids yourself, you don't come across like a parent. You remember what it was like to be a child and you relate on that basis, sort of an older-sibling or friend kind of a way. Never having been a parent, I'm not tempted to give advice or frown on things kids do (unless they're inherently harmful).

I never realized how much I prefer it that way until this post. My nephew, my boss' teenagers, and neighborhood children who I speak to, all seem not to look at me like an Authority Figure, and I get to talk to them and hear what they say as young people, not as kids-who-have-to-be-taught.