As every writer knows, research is absolutely essential both to the writing process and in ensuring the authenticity of the work. Recently I embarked upon a research trip to engage in the fascinating study of sibling interaction and family dynamics. Okay, so it was a spring break trip to San Diego with my sister and her four boys. Not having children of my own, I’ll take the opportunity for nephew/niece research time whenever and wherever I can get it. Is it wrong of me to so shamelessly use my family for my own personal gain? You be the judge.
I have two sisters, each has four kids, and fortunately both are eager to the point of insistence in “sharing” their children with me. Statements like this are not uncommon; “No, really, Carol--you can keep them as long as you want. I’ll pack their birth certificates just in case...” Or “Nephew #1 wants to run away from home and I really want to be a good parent and give him what he wants, so I told him he could move in with you for a little awhile--or until he graduates from college...” They are incredibly generous these sisters of mine.
I am usually willing to take them up on their more reasonable offers of kid-sharing, and vacationing with my sisters and various combinations of nieces and nephews is not uncommon. So sure, I was up for a week-long spring break trip--me and my sis and her four precious rapscallions basking in the California sun and seeing the sights.
I’m going to say something now that will undoubtedly cause all of you moms to roll your eyes and mutter under your breaths at such an obvious assertion. But please keep in mind that I don’t possess your built-in biological coping mechanisms. So here goes--traveling with kids takes exhaustion to a whole new level. And I’m not talking about physical stamina. Last year I ran my first half-marathon--I can hold my own with these screen-loving couch-kids of modern days. No, I’m talking about the kind of exhaustion that drains the mental capacity of adults and renders them stupid. And let me be clear here--by “adults” I mean me.
Two of my favorite words to hear in the entire world are “Aunt Carol,” which is immediately followed by a question or a series of questions. If I had a dime for every time I heard the words “Aunt Carol” on this trip I would be a very rich woman, albeit a rich woman with acute tendonitis from clicking one of those counter-thingies because that would be the only way I could possibly add up all of these “Aunt Carol’s.” And then I would promptly be poor again from spending these hard-earned dimes on churros and souvenir plush critters sporting tiny tie-dyed logo-embossed t-shirts.
But I think it’s the never-ending questions that inevitably do me in. And it’s not so much that the questions are never-ending as they are difficult. (No, I am not smarter than a fifth-grader, and I think I’ve already proven this by admitting that I repeatedly and enthusiastically agree to these trips.) I really want to provide answers to these thoughtful inquiries. And I try. I do. Because I know the answers are important to them.
As both of my teacher-sisters often say--almost every moment can be a teachable one. I think that’s lovely, so I try to live by this advice. And of course I love these children of my heart and want to spend time with them, be there for them, help mold them, and make a difference in their lives. And so I patiently try to answer these brain teasers that make the SAT’s look like a first-grade worksheet. The following questions are borrowed from the actual vacation transcript--no context provided or needed and it can be assumed that each and every one was preceded with an “Aunt Carol”...
Nephew #3: “Is the komodo dragon the biggest lizard in the world? Do you think it would rather eat people or hard-boiled eggs?”
Nephew #2: “Do you think SeaWorld was a bike shop when it very first opened?”
Nephew #4: “Do panda bears hibernate?”
Nephew #1: “Do you know what color the San Diego Padres uniforms were in 1974?”
I always start out each of these vacations with a fresh dose of enthusiasm, but by the end, with exhaustion settling in and my now-aching brain about as useful as a pot of cold mush, I find myself more and more often reverting to one of a few pat answers: “Sure, why not?” or “That sounds great, honey!” or even “Mm-hmm.” Sometimes in a burst of caffeine and sugary-vacation-snack-induced energy I’ll mix the words up or attempt to creatively re-string some combination of them together.
But they become wise to this, these clever nephews of mine, because not only do kids ask a lot of questions--they listen, too. Oh sure, maybe we think they aren’t listening and sometimes we might even wish they weren’t listening. But they listen. They do. I have proof.
Nephew #1: “Aunt Carol, can you take us to Disneyland again?”
Me: “Mm-hmm. Sure, why not?”
Nephews #1-4: “Woo-hoo! Mom, Aunt Carol is taking us to Disneyland again!”
My sister: “That sounds great, honey! Ask Aunt Carol if I should pack anything besides your birth certificate...”
Any “research” I may collect and share from these trips shall be deemed authentic, hard-earned and a precious gift from God.
With Mother’s Day looming, I’d just like to add a heartfelt salute to all you mothers out there who are brave enough (and strong enough) to travel with your children. And a sincere thanks to my wonderful sisters for all of their kid sharing. I truly do treasure (almost) every quasi-mothering moment you gift to me.
Please tell me I'm not alone in collecting research from my family in this way?