About half-way through my last babysitting excursion with my niece and nephew, I looked down at Noah and recognized a glint of mischief in his eyes. For a quick moment I thought of my Uncle Roberto looking back at me. Noah looked up, gave a slight smile, and I saw the end of a stone he had put into his mouth. After wrestling that away from him (and recovering from a mini-heart-attack), I thought back to my Uncle, and whether this was karmic retribution. I always assumed it was my brother who would now be paying for a wild childhood of incessantly-active and occasionally-crazy behavior – it never dawned on me that I had my own karma to overcome. And as an Uncle – with the same sometimes-ornery disposition as my own Uncle Roberto – I have a niece and nephew who may prove to be his last act of vengeance upon me.
I was a hellacious nephew. At times I was awful. My brother and I wreaked so much havoc with our Uncle that it’s amazing he even spoke to us. We couldn’t help it. We were kids, and all we wanted was his undivided attention. Sometimes you have to resort to bad behavior to get it. Above all of that though, we loved him – dearly and obsessively, perhaps because he was always so elusive, and lived so far away. For the first ten years of my life, my Uncle was separated from us by oceans – first the Pacific, then the Atlantic – as he moved from the Philippines to Israel before coming to the United States.
The twins have known me from birth. There will be no mystery, no distance of years or many miles, and for that it will prove different in ways both good and bad. Meeting my Uncle for the first time, on that snowy day at the Albany Airport – the first time he had ever seen snow in his life – was an event. It was magical for all those reasons, but now that he is gone, I wish we’d had more time together. I wish he had lived closer, that we could have visited him on our own, that he was there for the simple uneventful days instead of just holidays or weddings.
That’s what I have with Emi and Noah. Yes, I’ve been there for the big events – birthdays and holidays – but it’s the in-between moments that matter more and make up a childhood. Like a mid-morning summer stroll or a ride in their Radio Flyer. There will be time for magic too, and I’m pretty good at creating an event out of nothing, so these twins will have their own special moments with their Uncle Al. I’ve already had a few with them – it’s not every day I meet a little man with a stone in his mouth and a twinkle in his eye, or a little lady with as much interest in shoes and jewelry as me.
Somewhere my Uncle is smiling, I’m sure of it. Maybe he knows what’s in store for me, maybe he doesn’t – but he’s definitely getting as much of a kick out of his great niece and nephew as I am.
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