One of my BFFs has a little brother named Milo whom I have adopted. He’s in his late twenties and so far has managed to avoid any form of commitment or responsibility. He amuses me. We are both learning about kids from our siblings and trying not to screw up, so I asked him about being a single, childless uncle. He wrote this for me:
I have a confession: I cannot keep a cactus alive in the desert – literally.
I’ve spent the majority of my twenty-somethings in Scottsdale, Arizona, during which the depth of my ability to perform the most basic of domestic tasks in my urban lifestyle has spiraled to near catastrophic lows. I order-in the majority of my meals, I regularly wash full, unused tubes of Burt’s Bees in pant pockets, and hanging a painting has become an anxiety inducing cry for help. If it requires a level and hammer, it is not for me.
Also apparently lost on me was any modicum of paternal instinct, or desire to have kids. With my later twenties have come the inevitable questions about having children, and why I haven’t yet. Yes, guys get these questions too.
Thus it’s become a regular, painstaking task informing these harbingers of annoyance that I prefer to not have all of my time, money, and hours normally spent sleeping sucked away by tiny, stinky, noise machines. I’m also quite content dying having missed the resentful teenage years, the hormonal middle school era, and the moving-back-in-after-college debacle. I refuse to become a sixty-something heating up pizza rolls in the microwave for my 25-year-old living in the basement.
I’m in love with my life. I have a hunger for experiences, a passion for living, and the ability to pursue those things reasonably at will. I also once fiercely defended the simplicity by which I was able to live; no drama, and no mess. And it was in that space, that blissful epitome of #FirstWorldProblems surrounded by crooked Monet prints, that I received that fateful phone call: my sister was pregnant with her first child.
Understand that my family is not touchy-feely. “I love you” is used sparingly and, more often than not, loosed only on the crest of an impending tragedy. And we are fine with it. We’re like the English; we only show affection towards our dogs, and the Royal Family. Despite our eight year age difference and tenuous familial bonding, my sister, Danielle, and I would both likely admit to being the closest of the six siblings in our brood. Thus was my dilemma. For more than two decades I had escaped any touchy-feely-ness, or real obligation to family beyond the standard phone calls and laughs over drinks when we got together. I could be, in a word, selfish, and selfish without real consequence. This was all over. My carefree (read: selfish) lifestyle of “forgetting” birthdays and feeling guilt-free about spending holidays on a beach or by a pool rather than flying home? All gone in five minutes of conversation and shocked expletives.
During the last trimester of Danielle’s pregnancy I came home to Ohio where I spent the next several months watching her waddle while trying to be a helpful brother. Seriously, I wasn’t aware that this mode of transportation was tenable for such an extended period of time. She waddled through the mall. She waddled through restaurants. She waddled through parks. One doesn’t realize it is possible to experience road rage as a pedestrian until they have to grocery shop with an angry, hormonal land-manatee.
After finally reaching a point where anything on the ground was dead to her, she waddled her way into labor. Naturally, I showed up at the hospital precisely five minutes post-delivery with McDonalds for all. Best. Brother. Ever. My mother cried, and hugged me (my butt hasn’t clenched like that in years), Danielle was in good spirits, the little pink alien was, thankfully, a cute newborn, and all was right in the world. Or something.
Fast forward two years. I am in Ohio on business, and decided to stay with my sister and niece, Beth, rather than stay downtown in a hotel suite. What can I say, I suddenly became a masochist who apparently hates sleeping in past six. My interaction with her having been somewhat limited, Beth took this opportunity to decide she really, really liked me. She liked me so much that she could not be bothered listening to the Nanny while I attempted to work. In fact, Beth couldn’t be bothered leaving me alone at all, and followed me around like a lost puppy for five days. There’s really nothing more professional than being on a conference call with your staff, while a giggling toddler hits you in the face with a book. Sure, it was cute and everyone was amused, but it was indeed a distraction I wouldn’t mind never having again.
Then, it happened. Then, came my true undoing. Then, came the “hand thing”.
Beth has a habit of taking your hand, and pressing your palms against her cheek for several minutes at a time. It’s a very deliberate display of affection reserved for those with whom she is the most comfortable. It’s also cute as hell. Sigh. There’s something to be said for watching a little creature yet unaware of the malice of the world placing her faith and emotional trust in you. Thus began my downward spiral into “The Feels”.
Beth gave me all The Feels. All of them. Yes, she is still occasionally annoying. Yes, wine after her bedtime is still a delight. Yes, her poop smells like a dead body floating in the East River. But, she loves purely and makes it impossible not to love her back. She doesn’t understand betrayal, or disappointment, or hurt. She doesn’t understand loss, or heartbreak, or anxiety. She is humanity in its purest, most unadulterated form. The world is often a cold, violent place and Beth, like us, will be unable to avoid this part of life. But those closest to her do have the ability to also show her the beauty in the breakdown. This is something I had never considered before.
Knowing that you are loved, and accepted, and thought of can mean all the difference in how your view yourself, and how you treat others. I’ve learned in my twenty-something years that how we treat others has an equal or greater effect on our happiness than how we treat ourselves. All people want these things and we often forget, wrapped up in our day to day, that kindness and love can make or break a day, a year, a life.
I hope that as the weeks and years pass in Beth’s life, she sees humanity for what it could be, not what it sometimes is, and behaves accordingly. I hope that she will make the world a better place than she entered it, and an integral part of that is the love and kindness she is shown as she grows. I’ll be damned if she doesn’t get that from me in every way I can think to give it. Perhaps this is part of this “paternal instinct” everyone is always talking about that I’m apparently supposed to have.
While this may mean I won’t spend any more holidays on a beach with a margarita, and instead spend more on trips to a state I don’t particularly care for, I’m happy knowing that the opportunity for a better world, even if that better world only exists within the bubble of her own life, can maybe happen by my simply showing up.
They say that love is sacrifice, and I’m inclined to agree. But, it’s not just sacrifice for the person you love, it’s a sacrifice for the people that they love, and the people that they will touch every day. I want her to love the person who makes her Starbucks after a grueling night of studying at university. I want her to treat that server well. I want Beth to grab the world in her palm, press it to her face, and love it just as much as she did when she was an infant. She did this to me. I blame her.
I still can’t keep a cactus alive. But maybe, just maybe, that’s because all of my love and passion for life is meant to grow and love a more precious life than a houseplant. Only time will tell, and I remain ever hopeful for the future.
Now, where’s my martini?