November 8, 2001
Have you ever wanted to be a Soccer Mom? If you're not one, it looks like a pretty good gig from the outside: Leisurely lunches with the girls and shopping trips to the mall. Do a couple of errands, get the kids off to their after-school amusements, then pick up some take-out for dinner, and you're done. All you need is a car, a cell phone and a charge card, no experience necessary. If you're lucky, you've got a housekeeper to do the heavy lifting, and you never so much as break a nail on the job.
Well, I've lived the fantasy, friends, and I'm here to tell you: it's overrated. These children ain't all they're cracked up to be. I was pressed into service recently when my sister went to Europe, and somebody had to keep an eye on my nephew, Chris -- who calls me Tio (Uncle in Spanish). I may not have been the first choice, but in a pinch, Tio would suffice.
I was delighted to do it. This was a perfect chance to hone my skills as a wannabee Jewish dad, bond with Chris and, as a happy byproduct, score some bonus points with the ladies. After a week, however, he did not live up to his promise as a babe-magnet for his surrogate bachelor-father. He's supposed to draw women like mice to cheese, but they didn't rise to the bait. The little punk hasn't done a damned thing for me.
Which raises the question: What good are these children anyway? They don't work, they don't drive, and their table manners -- don't get me started. And, as if it wasn't bad enough already, they want you to buy them clothes and records and videos and all kinds of things no sane person would be caught dead with. Of course, I could just be overreacting to the burping contest that took place in the car for 14 miles on the way back from downtown, between Chris and his pal, Justin.
My sister has referred all questions regarding vice and bad behavior over to me: Ask Tio. I'm a one-man vice squad, so Chris sent me the following letter from camp last summer:
I'm really bored and really homesick at camp right now. I miss you a lot and hope you're okay. Can you do me a favor? Can you send me a Playboy, cause all the little girls here look like dogs."
Did I mention that he's 11? This is what I'm up against. I've seen this same kind of sexual awakening going on with girls his age, too, but at least it's usually accompanied by a karaoke performance of "Bye Bye Birdie," or an interpretive dance. (Remind me: Is it wrong to send soft-core porn through the mail, across state lines, to preteens?)
Everyone develops an individual style of parenting. My sister is of the "sympathetic encouragement" school. By contrast, I am Tio the Merciless. "I'm in charge here," I said, like Al Haig entering the situation room, as soon as Chris' parents left for the airport. "My house, my rules."
"But it's my house," he reminded me.
"Fine. Your house, my rules."
I made him study more than he wanted, telling him that he'll live out his days in dire poverty if he fails his science test. I felt pretty good when he came home with an 85, but they grade on a sharp curve at his school, and that only rates a C+. Could we have tried just a little bit harder? No, I knew that stuff cold! I could get a 92 in my sleep! Everyone knows the smooth muscles are slow to react and quick to tire, you idiot! I had to learn all this stuff for a C+? That little rat fink betrayed me. I had to flog him, but it was for his own good.
My main role in his education, however, was picking him up from school every day, angling to get a good spot in the "serpentine" of SUVs wending up the driveway. It's amazing how time expands and contracts around the moment that school lets out. The hours he's in school seem to go by in a flash, but the next six hours, from 3 p.m. to 9.p.m., are seemingly without end ... and he needs to be fed constantly. I've been in loco parentis for less than a week, and I'm exhausted.
When he gets into the car with his 60-pound backpack, we start the conversation the same way every day: "What'd you do in school today?" I ask.
"That's my boy!" Uncle Tio says. "Don't let those horrible teachers try to put any ideas into that big, empty head of yours. You're perfect just the way you are. Never change."
J.D. Smith is available to babysit @ www.lifesentence.net.