This weekend I took a quick trip back to the ancestral Snider homeland in California for the wedding of one of my many cousins. Much of my immediate family was able to convene for the occasion, which meant a great many more people than usual were crammed into my parents’ house. It’s a four-bedroom place, but there were 10 of us, so it took some particularly thorny calculus to figure out the sleeping arrangements.
I was lucky to get my own room. This does not always happen, particularly when I’m home at the same time as my fat brother Jeff and his wife, Beth. Married couples always get an actual bed in an actual bedroom when they return home, presumably so they can commit acts of marriage even while traveling. Parents will do anything to ensure that their married children have appropriate accommodations, even if it means spending the week prior to their arrival knocking out a wall and converting the garage.
Unmarried children, meanwhile, can sleep on a pile of rags in the driveway for all anyone cares.
But I got a room this time, albeit one with an air mattress rather than a bed, but hey, you take what you can get. Jeff and Beth had the adjacent room (with a bed), which they shared with their 1-year-old, Logan, who could not be more adorable if he were made of puppies. In the next room was Kelly, who is the girlfriend of my other brother, Lane, who slept on the couch in the living room. In the fourth room were my parents, and on a pair of futons in their master suite were Jeff and Beth’s 3-year-old daughter Lindsay, and 8-year-old Emily, who is my other brother Christopher’s daughter.
The girl cousins were having a slumber party, although when I passed by to say goodnight they were actually being dragons who could roar and scare off enemies, which apparently included me. Emily, who is so adorable she makes you want to poop your pants in sheer ecstasy, is notable for the fact that she is almost always playing a pretend game. She is usually a princess or an animal of some kind, and if you wish to interact with her you will need to adopt a fantasy persona that is appropriate for her situation. (That last part is key. If she is pretending to be a mermaid, it will not be helpful for you to pretend to be a character from a Chekhov play.) Someday a therapist may diagnose this as a dangerous mental condition, but for the time being it is merely adorable.
Friday night I went to bed at around midnight and was awakened six hours later by Lindsay, who was kneeling on the air mattress next to me and staring me in the face.
“I woke up and I’m not tired anymore,” she said.
I was still coming to terms with the fact that it was 6 a.m., an hour that I am not normally called upon to face at all, much less with a 3-year-old.
“I don’t want to wake up Mommy and Daddy or Emily or Grandma and Grandpa,” she said. This was very considerate, but perhaps you are wondering, as was I, why she felt it was OK to wake up Uncle Eric. My best guess is that at various times in her life, she has been instructed not to wake up any of those other people. But no one’s ever told her not to wake up Uncle Eric before.
I said, “You don’t want to go back to sleep?”
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to go downstairs.”
“OK,” I said, mentally adding “Knock yourself out” and preparing to go back to sleep.
“But I don’t want to go by myself. I need you to come with me.”
So I had to get up. Surely if any other person woke me up at 6 a.m. for no better reason than that he or she had nothing else to do, I would murder that person where he or she stood. But this was Lindsay, who’s as cute and sweet as a candy bar made out of kittens. I guess when you’re a parent the adorableness of this kind of behavior probably wears thin after a while. But being an uncle, well, I was actually flattered that she chose me. I like the idea of being the uncle that you can go to in times of trouble or insomnia.
I got up, and we quietly crept down the hall to the staircase. She said I needed to hold her hand while we descended, which is silly, since she’s perfectly capable of going up and down stairs by herself — but, again, cute. In the living room we found Lane, as expected, as well as Jeff, whose snoring had evidently been sufficient cause for his eviction from his and Beth’s temporary marital bed. Jeff and Lane each occupied a wing of the sectional couch. Lindsay climbed up into the recliner a few feet away. I crouched next to her and said, “What now?”
She thought for a moment and said, “I want to watch a movie.” I considered putting on some TiVoed “Blue’s Clues” or something and turning the sound down low, but I didn’t want to wake up Lane. (I wasn’t as concerned about waking up Jeff, since technically Lindsay was his responsibility anyway.) I said, “Well, that might wake up Uncle Laney, though.”
Lindsay said, “I want some milk.” That seemed easy enough, so I fetched a glass of milk. She said, “Thank you,” because she is very polite, but then she inspected it and said, “This is the wrong cup. I want my princess cup.” I pointed out that the cup I’d chosen had Scooby-Doo on it, and wasn’t that awesome? She examined the scene, which had Scooby and Shaggy cowering in fear at some unseen terror, and she said delightedly, “They’re afraid of something!”
Aha! I’d convinced her!
“But I want my princess cup.”
Oy. All right. So we went looking around for her princess cup, and we found it on the floor next to the couch. It’s one of those cups with the tight lid and the bendy straw that kids use. It’s also bigger than the Scooby-Doo cup, and it has sparkling images of Disney princesses all over it. Honestly, once I saw it, I agreed with Lindsay that it was far superior. We transferred the milk to the proper vessel and she said thank you again.
But still the question remained: How was she going to occupy herself? I said, “Do you want to read some books?” She liked that idea. However, she told me her books were in a red bag back up in my parents’ room, next to the futons she and Emily had slept on. That meant we had to embark on a stealth mission, back up the stairs and quietly into Grandma and Grandpa’s bedroom. We had a path laid out for us, a simple objective, get in, get out, no heroes. I was Jack Bauer: Babysitter.
The mission was immediately compromised when I opened my parents’ bedroom door and it squeaked, awakening my mom. She sat up and looked at us with an expression more confused and befuddled than it usually is. I shrugged and gestured at Lindsay, which I realize now probably didn’t really explain anything. We got the book bag, and I whispered to Mom, “She woke up and didn’t want to go back to sleep, so she’s going to read books.”
Grandma was having none of this. “You need to go back to bed,” she told Lindsay.
“No, I’m not tired,” Lindsay replied.
“Do you want to climb up here and sleep with Grandma and Grandpa?”
If you’re a grandma, that’s about as far as you can go with disciplining your 3-year-old granddaughter: you make her a counteroffer, and if she still says no, then you let her do what she wants.
Now armed with books, Lindsay and I went back downstairs. I settled her in the recliner, turned on the lamp next to it, and asked if she was all set for an early morning of literature. She was. I said I was going back to bed, and she said that was OK. She was all smiles as I gave her a hug and honked her nose. As I tiptoed away, she said, “Good night!”
It was now 6:10 a.m. As I got back into bed, I congratulated myself for successfully handling the situation. Lindsay was set up with plenty of books to look at quietly until the house’s other occupants began to stir, and I figured she’d probably fall asleep in the recliner anyway. Later that morning, after I’d gotten up for real, I told Jeff the story and asked if Lindsay had eventually woken him up. He said she had — at 6:20. The books had entertained her for all of 10 minutes. But hey, she’s 3, what do you want from her? At least she didn’t use her dragon breath to start a fire.
Previous columns detailing avuncular duties are "Uncle What's-His-Name" and "Uncle Shrek."
The wedding mentioned in passing in the first paragraph was going have an entire column devoted to it later, but that didn't pan it. (The column, I mean. The wedding went fine.) The five paragraphs I squeezed out before the topic ran dry are included in this blog entry, however.
SnideCast intro & outro: "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," from the original Broadway cast recording of "Oklahoma!"