On TV, people my age spend most of their time partying and pursuing suitable partners. Saturday night is the prime night for this to take place with women putting on their best impractical footwear and men dousing themselves in cologne to draw the attention of that special someone.
As a married man, I knew that half of that had passed by me. I still thought, though, that at 25 I could have a fun Saturday night. I might go to a concert or head downtown in search of adventurous cuisine or a new art gallery. Even a movie would be satisfactory.
So how exactly did I find myself in a family restroom, listening to my niece prattle on about applesauce and cottage cheese as she finished pooping just three feet away?
The whole experience was a bit surreal. Normally, my niece was a huge fan of mine for roughly thirty minutes at a time. After half of an hour, even a three-year-old gets bored with me, though. This means that most days spent around my niece are full of a brief amount of activity followed by me watching her pull someone else’s arm out of socket.
Saturday afternoon, I was minding my own business as I walked across the mall when I was greeted with a nice, quick yank of my arm. In my mind, I envisioned my arm tearing from the rest of my torso and flying across the store, landing on a pile of V-neck sweaters. It was one of the most unexpected things to be greeted with.
“Uncle Nathan!” she shouted. She seems to shout a lot. If I had one complaint for God, it would be that there is no volume knob for children.
For the next half hour, she pulled on my arms and climbed my torso. I felt like a human jungle gym. A really weak jungle gym that was being subjected to constant shaking and squirming by a tiny person. Fortunately, the half hour was almost over. If I could make it just a few more minutes, I would have escaped another uncle-niece bonding time with all of my limbs intact.
Only, it didn’t stop. After an hour, her love for using me as a plaything to abuse was still going strong. My arms had been pulled in every conceivable direction including up into the air, quite the feat for a person who is no more than three feet tall. My back was tired and I was sure I was about to lose my mind entirely.
We made our way across the mall to the food court. All the while, this human tornado squirmed, pulled, climbed, jumped, and shouted. Quickly, I tried to distract her, lest I find myself in traction because of our time spent together.
“What do you want to eat?” I asked. Kids love food. Nearly every conversation I have ever had with her involves some sort of food. That or her doll which, according to her, has spit up on her every day forever. She must have a very gross doll.
“I don’t want food. Swing me,” she replied. Clearly she wasn’t getting it.
“How about Japanese food?”
“How about a hot dog?”
Finally, after what must have been hours of deliberation, the decision was made. She would eat pizza. That is a fantastic kid food. It is acceptable to eat with your hands and has very little residual sauce to wipe all over themselves, their adult companion, the stranger next to them, or any other nearby object.
We settled in for our dinner. Moments later, she looked at my wife.
“I need to pee,” she said in that way that only little kids can. It was quite apparent that this was true. She was squirming side to side and holding herself. Her face showed a look of panic that could either mean that pee is imminent or that she was experiencing some sort of terrible pain, most likely from an alien that had grown inside her and was ready to burst from her tiny three-year-old chest.
My wife ran to the bathroom and, for the first time all evening, I had quiet. I was able to eat my food in peace. It was a glorious time.
It lasted five minutes.
Suddenly she comes back. Two bites of pizza later, she stood up from her chair and made her way to her trusty Uncle Nathan.
“Uncle Nathan,” she whispered.
“Yes,” I replied. She whispers a lot, so I did not figure there was any need to be worried.
“I need to poop now,” she said. “Will you take me poop?”
I didn’t understand. How had this become my job? I have no interest in dealing with child crap. If I did, I would have my own child. We could have fun, exciting trips to the bathroom together, my kid pooping, me wishing I wasn’t standing there watching my kid poop. It would be a glorious time.
She sat on the toilet for ten minutes. In between unpleasant and slightly disturbing groans, she managed to tell me how she calls food she likes “yummers.” I, in turn, asked her to hurry up and finish with her waste removal. It was an awkward ten minutes, to say the least.
The rest of the evening was spent teaching her that she should not put her head into trash cans and she should not take off her shoes in the middle of the mall floor. All the while, I came to a realization. I could do this. I could be in charge of a child if need be. I would not be one of those parents who accidentally forgets their kid in the middle of a Burger King or causes their child to go through 30 years of therapy as adults. I would be able to raise a kid that was smart, independent, and did not stick their heads into food court trash cans.
I might be a decent parent.
At least someday. The conversations while on the toilet are still far too unpleasant for me now.