The subtle things

I’m an uncle. A real one, too. Lucky enough to be an uncle and fortunate enough to have no requirements placed on the position other than the obvious:

a) have a brother or sister that procreates
b) permits you with visitation rights.

This weekend I got to play the part of uncle quite a bit. I spent some time with my nieces and nephews, each and every one of them. There are five in total: aged 12 – 3. I’m on the verge of being 29 soon so I’m essentially a “grown up” in their eyes. I come complete with a big person job, a serious relationship, and clothes that I pick out for myself. You know, all the traits necessary to be an adult when viewed through the lens of a small child. And it’s through this particular lens that you’ll see the world in ways that you once forgot. Or have been too busy to really notice.

For instance, I found myself playing a game with two of them that really opened my eyes to something. It all started with the 3-year old, Evan. He inquired that I go “hide behind the couch” a while. So I did. And when I did, he proceeded to jump over the couch, roaring loudly in my direction. I asked him what was going on and he mumbled something about a “dragon”. Luckily, his big sister of about four, Audrey, had overheard the game and came over to translate.

“He’s playing the dragon game with you”, she said.
“Oh? So he’s the dragon is he?” I said.
“Yes. He’s a dragon.”

I looked at little Evan and saw his eyes light up. The connection had been made: Evan clearly enjoyed being a terrifying, yet fun little monster. When he realized that I now understood the game, he wanted Audrey to get in on the action too.

“You, Audrey, go in dare (there),” he said and pointed to the spot behind the couch.
“Ok, Evan,” she said and grabbed a nearby blanket as if it were some form of protection.

“You…you go in dare (there) too,” said Evan and I did as I was told. I squatted behind the couch next to my niece, waiting on the dragon outside. Audrey curled in a ball and snuggled up close to me. The experience brought back some memories. Specifically those where my brothers and I would play a similar game. We’d hide out in various parts of the house and then chase each other down depending upon who was tagged as the “monster”. Since I was the usually the biggest, that designation typically fell on me. But here I was, crouched low with a person one-fourth my size, anxiously anticipating the onslaught of a boy even smaller than her.

Yeah, I was excited. Wouldn’t you be?

Then, Evan attacked. He jumped over the top and pretended to breathe fire and spew flames from his mouth (I discovered that this was fire much later, but for sake of the story, I’ll condense). Audrey shrieked and hid herself under the blanket whilst I pretended to be scared too. Then I responded with a flurry of well-placed tickles to Evan’s armpits and sides, thus sending the beast back to the other side of the couch. Until the next attack, of course.

This went on for a few rounds and I’ll admit that I was having fun. Evan was having the time of his life, Audrey was enjoying the tickle retaliation and I knew I was keeping these kiddos busy while my older brother and his wife took a breather. Then something really interesting happened. When Evan retreated back to the other side of the couch for the fifth or sixth time, Audrey curled up close and asked me a very simple, yet crucial question:

“Who will save me from the dragon?”

In the middle of a game like this, you may think this question to be of little importance. That her inquiry is just a result of the game at play. But be careful not to miss this moment. Luckily, I was prepared.

“I’ll protect you, of course.”

Audrey smiled big and inched closer just as Evan “attacked” once more. I played like I was scared for Evan while doubling as a calm protector for Audrey. I acted aloud with a “Oh no! Audrey, who will stop the dragon?” To which she replied, “The knight! The knight will!”

So I jumped up and wrestled Evan to the ground (softly) to a roar of laughter. Audrey emerged from the cave behind the couch as I let Evan back to his feet. At this point, I thought that the game was over, but it wasn’t. For when Evan stood back up, he asked me another intriguing question.

“I fly?”

Fly, eh? Poor grammar aside, I thought about Evan’s request. Well, he is pretending to be a dragon. Flying around would make sense, would it not? Dragons breathe fire and cause havoc, but they also fly. Fortunately, I felt prepared for this type of situation also.

“Yes, you can. You ready?”

I hoisted little Evan up and proceeded to “fly” him around the living room, dipping and diving, doing the best I could to simulate a soaring dragon. I was pleased to hear sounds similar to “fire-breathing” coming from his mouth as he flew around the room. Unfortunately, Evan’s fire-breathing is just an advanced form of saliva-dumping so the living room was ultimately covered in “fire” by the time we were through. A few trips more and I was spent. Uncle Josh couldn’t muster another go-round; I was done.

After explaining how arms tire from too much use to Evan, I took a seat next to the other elders at the party. Audrey and Evan went back to playing, this time by themselves or with another relative. These kids have nuclear reactors for energy sources, I swear!

I was happy to have kept the kids busy, but honestly, what happened here? What happened during this game?

Here’s something to ponder: what’s the alternative? What if I tell little Audrey that I don’t know who will protect her. And then offer no protection. What if I tell little Evan that he can’t fly and that I am too busy, that I need to do something else? Or that flying is stupid? Well, I won’t be winning any favorite Uncle awards, but that’s not the point. Eventually, the games will stop. Evan and Audrey will grow up; they’ll become adults and they’ll hopefully be playing with their own nieces and nephews. But what will they pass down to those children?

A hopeless and jaded perspective of the world? Or some semblance of mystery and excitement? Only one of those options has a future that’s worth living for.

I don’t need kids of my own to see how people get tired of protecting their youth. Being full-time parents doesn’t seem to be on people’s agendas anymore (and for the record, I think my brothers and their wives are doing a fabulous job – I think I need to make that clear). Why is that? What’s so much more important to parents? Money? Status? Convincing ourselves that God isn’t real so we think we can do everything on our own?

Rather than presenting young boys with the option to be warriors and dragons, they are told to take pills behind closed doors and still the slumbering champion. And rather than presenting young girls with white knights or soft places to land, we tell them to sit in front of a television and watch raunchy TV shows. And that the only way to be noticed is to flaunt your sexuality while at the same time be “credible”. That’s a hypocrisy that has no place in any young girl’s mind. It’s a message that only breeds confusion and distracts them from who they are meant to be.

So are these subtle things? Right now they are. But watch when these children grow up. The things that were once unassuming won’t be unassuming anymore. And what was subtle will become a reality – their reality. That’s what we, as parents and adults, should be paying attention to. That’s what we need to focus in on again. Because that’s what will ultimately matter down the road.

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