Auntie in Jersey - Days 1 through 3

Auntie in Jersey Trip Day One: In which my nephews still don't magically hate me, but love the kindle fire more (and other adventures)

Survived the grueling hazing that is flying! "Red eye" was an appropriate term, as I certainly didn't manage to wrest more than a few tortured winks from the five hour flight of constant elbowing, bumping, and an unending neck pinch that could only have been devised by unparalleled ergonomic supervillains.

Of course there were problems with the overhead bins before we took off (they get grumpy when they're not fed and sometimes develop a taste for man). This led to a moment of my own minor karmic smudging (we're not talking avocado thievery here, but something closer to "planes bring out the least charitable in all of us"). Since people now bring approximately the equivalent of an early settler's log cabin on as "carry-on," we were getting the announcement that the overhead bins would be full most certainly by the time the fourth boarding group got on the plane. This meant free bag check on our larger items (surely most people have figured out that to save money you just have to take something through security and then check), but a surprising number of people deferred. I - having used my Mary Poppins power to shove everything except anything I might conceivably need (underwear? What's that? Oh a world war one grenade launcher... will definitely want that!!) into a bloated little back pack and a medium messenger bag - deferred as well. I hate giving up possession of my things if I don't need to, but I was also justifiably concerned that my frayed bags with unreliable zippers might not survive the trip.

The poor flight crew was looking pretty frantic by the end. They were virtually grabbing bags from people by the time my group boarded, but turned out to have plenty of space right over my seat. I initially did the gentle-womanly thing and stowed one bag up above and one below, but there was already no leg room absent the bag. I thought I'd just try to fit that bag in in front of my back pack. As I did, a flight attendant came around and moved one of the bigger bags to make more space, told me to throw my bag in the newly opened space and shut the overhead. Later, one of my seat mates had no place to store his second bag and ended up holding up the departure so his bag could be stowed. I never mentioned that there'd be plenty of space to stow his if I removed one of my bags. Shame, shame. 

Anyways, I emerged into Saturday jet-lagged and disoriented and fully prepped for screaming children (haven't slept? used to people screaming in your ear for five hours? You're virtually a parent if you multiply that times 100). There was much coffee. And screaming. And screen time. There was sort of an inverse correlation between screen time for the boys and screaming time... although with three, one is always willing to help out. But my nephews are pretty cute so they get away with just nearly killing each other and others.

The major event of the day was something called the Pine Box Derby, which I am assured is a boy-scout-related event in which "the boys" (assisted perhaps a tad by their fathers) get a block of wood from which they are meant to fashion a car, and which they then race. I ended up going to bed instead of watching, so I don't have the specific details of how things are divided up, but I'm proud to be the aunt of a champion of not one but  two medals. Ian, my eight year old nephew, "made" a "tank," which was painted sort of a teal and gold with a pencil for its shooter. Unlike many tanks, it has wheels. This makes sense if you really wanna race a tank, obviously. It won second fastest in his division, and most historic. He is ebullient about this accomplishment... at least when he's not so distracted by Skysomethingorother on the Wii that he has forgotten real life exists and that he occasionally interfaces with it in certain ways. 

Braden, who is younger and not associated with the cub scouts but very associated with his older brother, also made a derby car. It's blinged out with several Christmas bells. He also appears to have cut up a picture of a cat of some sort and insisted that these be added on as well, despite some voiced reservations about wind-resistance. He then panicked and wanted them all off because he was afraid he'd be disqualified. He then did not bring his car to the derby after all. But it is truly a fine vehicle, worthy of MTV's Pimp my Pinewood. I don't think it has a bubble machine, but perhaps in time. At the moment, I'm "watching" the two older boys. This means, mostly being prepared to referee any knife fights that ensue if something happens to the Kindle Fire.

Sam, the one year old, and I get along very well (thank goodness), despite his initial reception salute of screaming and sobbing for about ten minutes upon seeing my face. He gave me a grand tour of the place yesterday and let me "draw" (take all of the markers out of the box, take the cap off each marker and then put the cap back on, put all the markers back in the box... rinse and repeat) with him for a good half hour. As always, It's fun (and a little surreal) to see my sister - who once locked me in a shower and told me she was making me a "spa treatment" that included everything such as cleaning supplies that she found under the bathroom sink - be such a great mom. 

Today is birthday party day! I am assured this will involved a trip to Toys R Us and some rock climbing. I am hoping that the rock climbing is part of the birthday party, but let's make no guarantees!

Aunty in Jersey Day Two: Ask not for whom the cow moos..

Sunday began with a grand gesture by Daddy-chef Ryan: French toast that, for various reasons, nobody ended up eating. At least it inspired my brother-in-law to drop by a bakery and bring me home some coffee... It really looked like lovely french toast. Ryan, for his part, had been ensnared by other bakery goods in mid-purchase, so wasn't hungry. The older two boys poked at their dishes for two minutes before remembering that they had a Wii game to attend to and promptly fled. Sam, the toddler, perhaps ate more than anyone; although I'd say he threw at least 35% of it on the floor (either from mouth or fork, he had no particular preference) before deciding that (1) climbing the table was more fun, and (2) my coffee cup, kindle charger and netbook looked far more desirable. Rachel guiltily requested that her french toast be healthier (whole wheat bread and fewer trappings), then slyly discarded it because because apparently healthy french toast doesn't quite tantalize the taste buds.   

There were naturally intermissions of general nephew-boy-piles in which I may have served as collateral snuggle damage. And a rousing game of turn on and off and on and off the lights with the toddler. I suppose I can see this, but apparently having a level that magically makes all the lights in the house go either on or off is pretty much the most bizarre and amazing thing ever. Our ability to bring illumination with a flick of our pinkies elevates us to at least the level of demi-gods. A follow up game, second only to lights-on-off would definitely have to be the ever popular "insist with every bone in your non-orally-communicative body that you desperately want a Nature Valley granola bar, and beg somebody to open the wrapping for you, then mush part of it into your mouth, thoroughly smash it into the couch and leave the rest on the ground... rinse... repeat"  I swear about 95% of toddler games are really centered around "what insane things can I force my parents to do while I pretend to fuss but am secretly laughing maniacally at my unquenchable magical powers, before they finally give up and watch bowling while I scream.

 We, as it turns out, were not attending the birthday party (only Ian was invited to go climb walls). Our involvement in that was merely a brief trip to the Toys R Us in some random Jersey town that is not Mountain Lakes and involves about fifteen highways and u-turns to reach (I have a theory that everything in New Jersey requires this). I also played my auntly duty by driving their Audi home, while my sis handled the minivan that was just liberated from the shop and appropriately christened on the way home with nephew-vomit. Darn, I was in the other car! And "birthday party"as a motif endured in our lives with another birthday party for my aunt who lives about twenty minutes from Mountain Lakes.

Angele (birthday aunt) and Maggie are uber-aunts, truly versed in the ways of amusing/diverting/ignoring teensy-rapscallions and rare-do-wells, so there was an appropriately concerted tag team effort in dividing escalating tensions between elder brothers just shy of WW (I don't remember my roman numbers for twenty bazillion). Some of this energy was appropriately channeled into a thoroughly well aged whine about the restaurant being horrible and not wanting to go there, the elder-kiddos ate all of their food and some ice cream to boot. Sam, the toddler, ate all of the ice cream... if by "ate" we mean "ingested partially and mostly rubbed up and down his shirt."

Bedtime ensued with the usual shrieks and fanfare, after which the adults had their "grown up time." Which mostly involved various modes of glazed staring at various screens. The night was actually fairly quiet after the initial pre-bed-time screams, with the exception of the dreaded animal noises puzzle, serving as acting sentry to the bathroom. Every time anyone used the bathroom last night, the puzzle cow would sound the alarm as if the bathroom were being invaded by Huns. A bit terrifying at two am, but one learns to accept life on the barn in time. 

And we've made it through the weekend into the really challenging part! Time for school, preschool, activities and a daddy far far away who had the unutterable gall to take the Kindle Fire with him to work when Braden (the four year old) wanted to play with it this morning!! Will we ever survive??

Auntie in New Jersey Day Three: In which medicated mothers mainly make meth at home, and crosswords are tackled

Today's morning trip was to one of those fabulous play emporiums that are God's gifts to parents. A magical wonderland of soft-washable objects from which mad little demons can heartily hurl themselves repeatedly without fear of reproach or injury. Like many of these places, there are side lines for the parents to sit and act momentarily like members of the grown-up-world while sipping tea from their favorite Buzz Light Year sippie cups. Today's momversation centered around anti-anxiety meds for one's pets, an article entitled Xanax Made me a Better Mom, and the uncannily high prevalence of methamphetamine addiction amongst stay-at-home moms. There was certainly a sympathetic undertone to the conversation.

My sis, at the moment, is one of those stay-at-homers. She's well-degreed and laureled as a pediatric nurse practitioner. Until the third child, she worked at a hospital, but the schedule does not mesh well with her current lifestyle of Xtreme-momdom. She is also a reforming perfectionist and innate control-freak (and yet I am the one who went to law school?), which butts heads with the practicalities of being a mom on a regular enough basis that the two camps have reached an uneasy cease fire. I'm not sure if the at-home part exacerbates or mitigates or merely overlays this complicating factor. I suspect she believes that getting out would keep her slightly saner and perhaps make her a better mom, but letting go of her children/routine/responsibilities at crucial points is utterly baffling to her. After a move and some time, I believe she'd need additional training to refresh her license. The stay-at-home part of motherhood is a love-hate sort of thing, but for now it would be more expensive to pay for daycare than anything she'd likely bring in.  

In other news, Rachel would gladly have more babies if she could just keep recycling them. And no, it's not scary that her circle of moms apparently is a group of gals named Heather... (dates herself with references to corn nuts and Christian Slater)

Shockingly, given the theme of the day was inscrutably instigated tantrums, we did manage to leave the emporium after only minor hints of anomie. And I had a super-aunt moment, sparing us all from another car-related meltdown, by picking up Ian the eldest from school, so Rachel could stay home with the other two boys. I may have waited outside the wrong classroom for fifteen minutes, but Ian eventually got shuttled into the van and home without the expected incident arising from my never having driven a car nearly so cumbrous before.

Ian is pretty much awesome. He's 8 and bright, so he can more or less hold his own in a subtle conversation but not yet trapped but the unsavory trappings of grown up conversational rutting. And he has a cute smile and a sweet little spate of well-developed (familiar familial) neuroses that add a certain human element to him in between total devolution into a raving maniac and/or Petit Marquis DeSade (mostly only with his brother, and all with love, no doubt).

Last night he started "helping" me with a crossword puzzle I was doing. Not exactly child-sized, but he helped by picking the numbers. Then I'd talk through a clue and ask his opinion on my best guess. He got so excited about it (I titled it Ian and Adella's crossword so I wouldn't accidentally do it without him) that he got up at 6 this morning to do more of it. Then he wanted breakfast "just like Aunt Adella's" and sincerely tried to eat mine after I offered it to him. This was despite the fact that it was basically a big bowl of garlic and spicy peppers with hints of egg and tofu, and clearly hurting his mouth. Eventually we finished a little block and I reclaimed my breakfast with only a few bites missing. Always rely of the abstemiousness of eight year olds and spicy foods. 

I set him free to play minecraft, while Braden watches some cartoon that has a theme song uncannily similar to King of the Hill, and Sam makes various shrieking and pointing noises because he wants his waffle before it has been toasted... 

It's going to be a busy day, but I think we just might survive it!
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