The Aunt’s Guide to Living with Four Boys

One of the joys of my life is being an aunt.  I have three nieces (whom you’ve been introduced to in the post Coco’s Girls) and four nephews courtesy of my two older brothers.  While I’ve been able to see my nieces two or three times a year since they were born, my nephews have been a bit less accessible.  Things are changing in our family and one of the good changes is the opportunity to reconnect with “the boys.”  Phillip (12), Taylor (10), Mason (8) and Clayton (5) recently spent three weeks in our home.  I had my concerns when I imagined four young boys moving in with us.  There were biblical plagues looming on my horizon — the toilet seat constantly left up, toys littering every surface, constant noise I couldn’t escape from, bickering, demands for attention I didn’t have the energy to give.  All of these things became a reality, but they were far from the hardships I expected.  The annoyances were quickly overridden by the delight I experienced.  Yes, three adults, four young boys and two toilets created some (urgent) challenges, but after I adjusted to the swarm of energy zooming through our house, I witnessed some very beautiful, and very silly, moments.  Here are some highlights from the month of invasion.

Boys Are Bloodthirsty

When they arrived in Arizona, my nephews jumped out of their car and entered our house like a militia of veterans.  They were armed to the hilt with Nerf guns and before they even said hello to me, they shot me.  After just two hours, our home was a war zone littered with all kinds of weaponry and ammunition.  Someone was always “killing” someone else and I worked hard over the last three weeks training them not to aim guns at my face. 

While I’m philosophically opposed to guns as toys or war “games”, I’ve learned that you can take the boy away from the gun, but you can’t take the gun away from the boy.  Even when we left the toys at the house and were out on an adventure, I’d hear the sound of gunfire from the backseat.  For little boys, pointed fingers and mouthed sound effects are sufficient replacements for physical weapons. 

Last night, Mason was playing by himself in his bedroom when Papa (my dad) asked him if he would like to join us watching a tv show.  Mason’s only question in considering the offer was, “Does it have guns in it?”  When Papa said yes, he jumped up and ran to the living room.  Sigh

They’d Rather Be Naked

I’m glad my nephews have healthy self-esteem when it comes to their bodies, but I found myself wishing we had a fig tree in the backyard.  What we have instead is a pool and the boys spent hours swimming.  When it was time to get in or out, they’d simply drop their clothes where they stood.  No hesitation, no embarrassment.  In fact, I had to curb their enthusiasm for skinny dipping by limiting flesh-suits to after dark.  (We have neighbors with telescopes.)  Even when we are inside the house or in the car and they get hot, the boys will just strip off their shirts, lay back and sigh like little kings.  Their propensity for nakedness is a refreshing expression of an innocence they will lose all too soon.  As their aunt, it’s both endearing and exasperating.  I changed their diapers as babies, so I’ve seen it all before, but I guess I assumed the days of displaying of the family jewels were behind me.  Sigh

Boys “play” LEGOs

As a girl I’ve never understood the male fascination with LEGOs.  I mean, baby dolls are at least life-size and dressable, but LEGOs seem so cold and impersonal.  One day Mason was a little grumpy and he got so frustrated that he just yelled out, “Will someone PLEASE play LEGOs with me?”   To me, he was speaking a foreign language.  How do you “play” LEGOs?  Don’t you just put them together according to the instructions and then admire your handiwork?  Apparently not.  Papa and Clayton got down on the carpet with Mason and I watched, fascinated, as they played LEGOs for a half hour.  Surprisingly, I discovered that the LEGO people have just as great adventures as my cabbage patch kids did 25 years ago.  Who knew?

Everything is a Competition

My oldest nephew Phillip has always been über competitive.  When he was six, he pouted for two hours after I won a silly basketball game of Horse.  Each of his brothers seem to have inherited the same competitive instinct.  Yesterday, we went bowling.  The competition began even as we loaded our names into the electronic scoreboard.  I have a tradition of always using an alias at bowling alleys (as protection from creepy people who usually hang out at said alleys) so I suggested the nephews make up funny names.  Phillip was Rush Nike 10 (his soccer team/jersey number) and Taylor insisted on being Awesome Man.  Whenever Taylor’s turn came, the board automatically abbreviated his name to simply “Awesome.”  Only Mason and Clayton caught the spirit of the exercise, dubbing themselves, Happy Meal and Bobby Wobby. 

In our third game, Clayton bowled down 9 out of 10 pins.  (We had bumpers, but it was impressive nonetheless because he has a cast on his dominant arm.)  When he saw the pins fall, he spun around, threw his hands up in the air and shouted, “I’m awesome!  Did you see that?”  Mason followed him with 9 out of 10 too, but instead of rejoicing, our 8-year-old hung his shoulders and sat down to pout.  The ever-positive Coco said, “Mason you got 9 out of 10 pins.  If this was a test, you would have an A!  You should be jumping up and down like Clayton.”  Probably unhappy to have his bowling skills compared to his 5-year-old brother’s, Mason just scowled at me.  Sigh

The Male Food Pyramid

Like typical children, most of my nephews do not consider vegetables food, let alone a food group.  For them, the foundation of the food pyramid is candy.  On the next level, in equal importance, are soda-pop and dessert.  (It’s been carefully documented that candy and dessert should be separate categories.  Candy is eaten throughout the day to maintain energy levels and a sense of well-being.  Dessert is a meal served every evening to encourage a good night’s sleep.)  At the top of the pyramid are staple foods that can be eaten at any meal: pizza, corn dogs, hamburgers, chips, s’mores, crackers and peanut butter and copious amounts of (processed) cheese.  Phillip and Taylor are better eaters than the two youngest, eating many “adult” foods that could be considered a meal, but the concept of fruit is still a challenge. 

We expected Clayton to eat at least three bites of whatever the adults were having.  If he didn’t feel like it, he’d prop his cute little face on two hands and stare at his grandparents with puppy-dog eyes.  Afraid that he would starve if we didn’t force him to eat something, Papa struck a goldmine when he threatened to withhold dessert for the whole family if Clayton didn’t eat his food.  Ever-competitive,  Clayton stuffed his food down and told his brothers, “I saved your dessert!”

To Cuddle Or Not To Cuddle

Taylor has always been the most physically affectionate of my nephews, even when he was a baby.  During his stay I discovered that he’s still as cuddly as ever.  Each night, as we’d prepare for after-dinner activities, Taylor would ask me, “Can I sit with you Coco?” or “Can we cuddle Coco?”  Even if we just came inside from the 110 degree heat and we were both damp with sweat, I never turned down those requests.  It’s not easy for a single, 30-something woman to find an appropriate person to cuddle with.  Curling up with Taylor each night was a sweet connection.  Sigh

On the other hand, I have three other nephews who like me but wouldn’t be caught dead hugging me, let alone cuddling with me.  Phillip, at 12, is too cool to cuddle.  Mason, at 8, is constantly moving so he’s hard to get a hold of.  When I tell Clay that I love him, he says, “I don’t love you!”  He thinks he’s being funny but I can’t help but want a little sincere love.  Sigh

Potty Humor

Occasionally we’d light up a Duralog and roast s’mores.  (Yes, even on a Phoenix summer night.  It’s a sign of great love and devotion.)  I started a tradition of group storytelling.  We’d go around the circle and each person would add a sentence.  The stories were always a strange adult-child mix of vocabulary and plot, but inevitably the stories would deteriorate with potty humor.  What is it with boys and bodily functions?  If they are not doing them, they are talking about them.  You know what my reaction is here.

Loud, Louder and Ear-piercingly Loud are the Only Volumes

Our house has been breaking the sound barrier this month.  One boy can make a lot of noise, but when you put four boys between the ages of 5 and 12 in one house with refined sugar it becomes other-worldly loud.  There is no way to escape such noise, even if you go into your bedroom, shut the door, turn on your sound machine and turn on your ipod.  The noise of four boys defies description.  It probably defies science.

Though I’ve done a lot of sighing during the last month, I have been happily surprised at my capacity to let go of the small stuff and just love these boys.  They have the beautiful eyes of their mother and the expressiveness of their father.  They are always competitive, sometimes naughty but mostly fun and loving.  My life was turned inside-out this month and though the invasion was a loud, ever-moving swarm of sugarfied gun-slingers, my love for my nephews expanded in the chaos.  I’ll miss the boys.  I’m excited to see them again at Thanksgiving, but this silence is really, really nice.  Sigh


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