One of the goliath insurance companies has a television commercial that does a wonderful job describing American families: “Every family has the incredibly efficient sister, the overachieving cousin, the crazy uncle…” The commercial isn’t Super Bowl worthy, but if you think about it, it’s refreshingly true in many instances.
It’s certainly true in my family’s case. I’ve been the crazy uncle since I was a kid, and it’s been a wonderful job most of the time.
Bubble, Bubble, Toil, and Trouble, the pet name for my four sisters, began having children when I was 7. (All except Trouble that is. She never married and is the sweet, rich aunt now.) Nonetheless, by the time I turned 12, I was famous on our street for the gaggle of nieces I sat every day after school. Their parents considered me old enough to make sandwiches and keep the flock safe until one of them got off work and came by to remove those horrible, yapping, barrette-wearing, ribbon-festooned pestilences from my house. That first generation of nieces forever weaned me from wanting to babysit newborns or converse with my teenage girl relatives for more than three minutes. But by the time I turned 35, I couldn’t wait to spend time with my new nephew. The three boys before him had come in the last vestiges of my youth, so I only got to hang with them on the holidays. My family’s DNA leans toward the girl side, biologically, so nobody was happier than I when the SNN (Sister News Network) reported that another boy was finally coming down the pipeline.
By the time NOP was walking and squawking (complete with an orange afro at the time), I was ready for my overdue duties and privileges as the crazy uncle. Nephew On Probation
NOP isn’t my nephew’s real name, it’s an anachronym for Nephew On Probation (I pronounce it Nope). That’s the nephew’s present status with me. You see, the boy recently turned 13. He’s an eyelash under six feet tall, and if I’m not mistaken, the onset of puberty has driven him temporarily insane. I’ll spare you the details, but his behavior has been aberrant enough to cause all of his weekends to be canceled from now until the end of the year. And, under my strict supervision, all privileges (except for free access to the refrigerator), have been revoked until he’s completed his homework, along with the additional curriculum study I devise.
If his personal behavior doesn’t show immediate improvement, it’s already understood that a longer detention is readily available. Irrespective of any issues caused by being raised in a single parent home, NOP has learned if he oversteps certain boundaries, there will be horrible and instant consequences. Luckily, his bad behavior has amounted only to many instances of loose-lipped foolishness or trying to be cool and lackadaisical at school, so I’m happy to report I’m not writing this from 201 Poplar.
Poor fella. I wish you could have seen the look on his face that first weekend of probation. He has the misfortune of owning all the conveniences of modern- day childhood while being saddled with a family who still believes in old-school values. I had long been his favorite adult relative, but with the teen years I morphed into the uncle from Hell. It was a shock to his system. What he didn’t realize was that I’d actually been planning this since he was a toddler and had refined my punishment system, thanks to one nephew and the sons of my former fiancé.
Three strikes at school or any grade below a C means instant lockdown — and no parent pass can save you. Waste time moping all you want, but do not skip a line of homework— and it better be completed by the designated deadline. If not, you’ll be required to write an additional report explaining your behavior and how you plan to correct it. Sit up, speak clearly, and be able to explain your school work with all the articulation you pour into your conversations about Michael Jordan, the L.A. Lakers, or whatever half-talented jerk is the designated king of rap this week. And don’t call me Uncle Tony until probation is over, or I might slip into an early Alzheimer’s moment, and remember what a delight you were as a child. Now, give me a hug before you get started so I can be reminded of why I was glad to see you born into this world.
My Favorite Nephew
I’m happy to report that the current crisis has passed and there’s light creeping into the tunnel.
Lately, NOP has been asking questions about earning a scholarship next year so he can go to a certain high school and I think he’s beginning to understand that being tall and handsome doesn’t impress anyone who counts at this point in his life.
So if you should ever run into us at Whole Foods during pizza happy-hour, or at a burger shop on the way home from church, and you notice a crazy man glaring at a gleaming example of youth, don’t grab your cell phone. It’s probably that the kid’s managed to shame a horse again by the way he’s eaten, or grabbed the car keys without my noticing. Or you might spot a tall, light-complected kid with big glasses standing next to a chubbier older man (we look like the number 10 when we’re hanging out) late at night at the Porsche dealership; it’s just my nephew and I, planning his prom and graduation. We’re supposed to be practicing his driving on weekends, and I promised him I would give him my car when he graduates, which means I better be able to step up a notch when he’s ready.
After all, despite the recent bump in the road, he’s still my favorite nephew. And he has an 8-year-old cousin who’s ready to take his place in line. I suspect that boy is going to need a chauffeur by the time Nop can be trusted to fully think. When the time comes, I’ll be ready. Because that’s what crazy uncles do.