The old proverb (as well as the Clintons) say, “It takes a village.” I take old proverbs seriously (the Clintons, not so much), and here is just one example.
During the first year we were together, my kids and I had the great good fortune to enjoy regular weekly visits from not one, not two, but three of our family aunts and uncles. Each person had a regular night. The boys knew pretty much by heart whether the day was going to be an Aunt Leigh night (I think those were Wednesdays), an Uncle Jim night (Thursdays?), or an Uncle Herman night (Tuesdays). Except for the occasional illness or out-of-town vacation, these visits were as regular as clockwork. As you might imagine, they were “treats” that the kids looked forward to week by week—almost as much as dad did.
Each visit had its own flavor. Uncle Herman was the playmate, spending most of his time on the floor with the boys while dad was freed up to cook, work, and clean. While I’ve never exactly embraced cooking, working, or cleaning, it was certainly easier to do when the kids were trying to put someone else in a headlock for a change.
Uncle Jim divided his time between kid play—“the claw” was a regular feature, much to my kids delight (the boys are now 19 and 17, and we see Uncle Jim once, maybe twice a year; and if the four of us are in the car and I’m driving, I still have to tell them to knock it off with all that “claw”nonsense)—and grown-up talk with dad, providing badly needed conversation that didn’t include the words “Spongebob” or “time out” or “phonics.”
And Aunt Leigh … well, basically, Aunt Leigh took over, cooking, cleaning, mending, probably getting some teeth brushed and hair combed in there as well. When Aunt Leigh was in charge, dad could read the paper or take a nap.
Lesson learned: For every uncle in the picture, make sure you have a few aunts.
As if it had been prearranged, after almost exactly a year the visits pretty much ended across the board. Uncle Herman had a new guy and soon moved to Santa Cruz. Uncle Jim took a job in Boise (welcome back to California, Jim! Long overdue!). And Aunt Leigh and not-yet-uncle Marty bought a house that required as much time and energy as any kid—at least until she had two of her own.
But the imprint of that early contact is indelible. The boys see Aunt Leigh only occasionally, Uncle Jim less often, and Uncle Herman not at all. But all it takes is a mention and they can go on with favorite moments, “remember when …” stories, and general good vibes in connection with the name.
We have had many other “regular visitors” who either were (Max, Uncles Cedric and Ray), or became (Christina) family, but I have to give a special shout-out to those early pioneers, who stepped in during the period when this whole “family” concept was a bit of a wild card. Their presence helped create the needed sense of security and smooth down some of the rough edges. All of us, especially dad, were in better moods and on best behavior with other grown folks around—and I will always be grateful for what they brought to the table (which sometimes included pork chops Thanks, Leigh!).
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