Lessons from Being an Uncle

“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'”

Kurt Vonnegut

 

On Wednesday this week, my family and I welcomed our new addition, Jack Jack. As I’m more than excited that I have a new baby nephew to spoil, it also got me thinking back on how being an uncle has changed how I relate to myself and to others, especially kids.

While I’m sure the journey of being an uncle to Baby Jack Jack would have its own lessons to teach me, here are the ones that I could think of from my journey so far with his two siblings: my 7 year old niece, Kayla, and my 5 year old nephew, Ajentina.

 

 

1. We Can Always Learn

Even after Kayla was born, I didn’t imagine myself as someone who cared much for kids. She was born when I was halfway through my final year in boarding school, so I didn’t get to see her much during her first few months. After I came home for good, Kayla was always around too. 

During that time, I was quite withdrawn and spent most of my time in the bedroom, coming out only to make myself a cup of coffee. Kayla would often be in the TV room, staring and smiling at me, and crawling towards me every time I went down and up the stairs. And of course, I’d think to myself, “Why me?”

I remember on one occasion, I was told to babysit Kayla for a short while. And that was when my Mom told me, “I’ve never seen you talk to Kayla.” 

“Why would I want to talk to a baby?,” I thought. I barely even knew how to carry a baby. 

It’s funny to think back on how far I’ve come from being that distant and indifferent 17 year-old uncle. The point is, there’s nothing we can’t learn. In my case, I slowly learned how to better handle kids and to connect with Kayla, and we became very close as she grew up. 

 

 

2. Don’t Take Things Personally

Especially when you’re not in an ideal mood, it can be hard to just let kids be kids. It’s not always easy to give them the play they need, to let them explore and make a mess, and to be there for them when they’re looking for comfort. 

It can definitely be stressful when a kid throws tantrums and couldn’t stop crying. It’s tempting to take it personally, to be angry at them for behaving the way they are. 

But it’s worth reminding yourself again and again, that they’re just kids. They don’t intend to annoy you or hurt you. They cry and scream because they’re not at a stage where they are able to articulate how they feel, and that’s the only way they know how to get you to soothe them. They make a mess and make mistakes because that’s how they learn — and that’s how we all learn, really.

 

 

3. Have a Swear Jar

The last thing you want is to be the culprit for any kid’s misbehavior. So of course, you need to have a handle on your potty mouth whenever the kids are around. 

Especially when Ajentina was littler, he loved to watch me play video games, among all my other pastimes. Unfortunately, it’s the one pastime where I’d be cursing like a sailor. Gaming being gaming — while I tried my best to behave around my nephew, there were moments where I couldn’t help but let out a “Fuck!”, “Shit!”, or at the very least, a “Damn!”.

Before things got any worse, I decided to have a swear jar. Every time I cursed around him, I would have to put in a certain amount of money into the jar — and after a while, I could donate that money, or treat myself to some coffee if I think I’ve improved my no-swearing game. 

Well, it worked for me. Don’t get me wrong, though — I still cuss a lot when I play video games. Just not when the kids are around.

 

 

4. Their Fears are Valid

Ajentina, who is five now, is deathly terrified of escalators. So every time we’re on one, I would still need to carry him until we’re safe, so to speak. I learned that the hard way, after he was shaken and couldn’t stop crying until he got his ice cream bribe.

Naturally, as an adult, it seems like a silly thing to be scared of. But again, that’s just how kids are. Think about your childhood, what are some “irrational” fears that you had as a kid?

I had many of them. But I particularly remember being afraid of falling asleep on my own. So at bedtime, one of my parents would have to be with me while I slept. I would then be awakened by the sound of them leaving, and every time, they would have to sit back down with me while I tried to sleep again.

Kids only know so much about how the world works. And rather than simply telling them to grow up, we can offer our hand and navigate the world together.

 

 

5. All Time is Quality Time

Just like anyone else, I feel sad whenever I look back at old photos of my niece and nephew, especially when they were babies. I would miss how fun it was to play with them when they were that little, and see them achieve one milestone after another. I’d rue over how quickly time flies. 

Cherish whatever small moments you have with them. These moments don’t need to be grand or ambitiously planned. You simply have to be present with them. And with that, any time you spend with them is quality time.

And the moments you spend, you can never get back. So spend them as best you can. 

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