One of the things that makes me happiest is spending time with my “nephew”. He is not really my nephew, but a little neighbor boy who decided when he was two that he liked it so much in my yard that he started trying to climb the fence to gain entry. Eventually, he started coming over every day. He was such a charming little guy, my mom even came out of retirement to start babysitting him. That was five years ago.
When he was younger (before he knew that no self-respecting seven year old likes girls), we would go on “dates”. These dates typically involved movies, trips to the toy store, and lunches at some chic spot like McDonald’s or Burger King, where we would have long, soulful discussions about how we were buddies. Even today, he hangs around my house a lot.
Since I’ve been working from home, he often asks me if I will play Wii games with him after school. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried explaining to a seven year old, who is used to you paying a lot of attention to him, that being officed at home still means that you have to work, but the look of dejection on such a child’s face can be heart breaking, especially when you know said child is already struggling with the impending divorce of his parents. One of the saddest things I have ever heard was the day he was sitting on my couch, looking very serious and blurted out to me apropos of nothing: “I don’t have a dad anymore. Dads live with their families and mine doesn’t. I don’t have a dad.”
So, when I heard he had a day off from school this week, I promised him I would take the day off too. He has been having a hard time, because his parents are splitting up. I have been having a hard time because my work deadlines are splitting me and my sanity up, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to goof off and replenish both our spirits. We had few rules: 1. If it wasn’t fun, we weren’t doing it; 2. If it ceased to be fun, we weren’t doing it anymore; 3. For one day, he could eat whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.
To start the day off, I made him chocolate stuffed French toast for him to eat while we formulated our game plan. It was to be a “fun day”, guided entirely by what he wanted to do (provided that what he wanted to do wasn’t to send me to the poor farm by going from store to store buying armloads of toys).
We started the day with a little Super Mario Brothers on the Wii and then headed off to OMSI’s Omnimax Theater, where we watched National Geographic’s Flying Monsters, a movie about pterosaurs (flying vertebrates with wingspans of up to 45 feet!). As it turns out, the domed theater is pretty cool. It’s quite a different experience to watch giant lizardy things fly across a domed screen overhead than it is to see them on a flat screen. Initially, I was worried that a documentary might be boring for a child his age, but the excitement of the screen combined with the boy’s big, big love for dinosaurs rendered any concerns about the presentation being over his head (get it, domed screen, overhead? I slay me!) obsolete.
Of course, once the movie was over he wanted, nay needed dinosaurs, so we went to the gift shop, where, instead of one of the many overpriced dino-themed gifts on display, he chose a quite reasonably priced submarine with no prompting from me. Then, despite my warnings about the day not being about toys, I took him to the dollar store, where he bought six dinosaurs with the rest of my secret toy spending budget. After that, we headed for Jack-in-the-Box where he got a milkshake (dairy is brain food!), while we set to the task of figuring out what to next.
Acting on a hot tip about a showing of Chipwrecked at Kenedy School, my short friend opted for the bold choice of a second movie. This was fine with me, since it was raining, Chipmunk movies are notoriously requiring of some manner of psychic numbing, and they allow you to drink a Ruby Red Ale and eat a slice of pizza while watching the movie. Don’t worry, no beer for the kid. His chosen lunch was a healthy balance of popcorn and sprite to round off the m&m’s he’d ordered as an appetizer. As a temporary guardian, I am nothing if not a stickler for good nutrition. As it turns out, despite my protests about Chipmunkery, sitting in a theater full of wound up children on a school holiday is pretty entertaining. There is nothing more spirit lifting than little kid giggles.
More importantly, however, my little friend forgot about his troubles for a while and I remembered that there is a whole world of important things outside of the stresses of my little insular work world. And, so. It was a good day for both of us.