My sister, Marcy, called last week and asked if she could bring her kids over to play with my dog, Duncan.. It was an unusual request on a work day, but with all four home for the summer I figured she was running out of ways to fill their days. As it happened, I was home to sign off on some roof repairs. When I opened the door they raced into my sparkling bachelor pad as if it were a Kid Zone.
“I’ll butt-race you down the stairs,” Gus cried out to his 10-year-old twin sister, Lily. Still finishing a messy Krispy Kreme donut, five-year-old Maggie went straight for the piano. Little Pal, not yet two, shrieked with delight as he stood on tip toes to reach the dimmer switches on the walls. Duncan barked loudly, registering disapproval and demanding attention. I had to get back to work, and my exit barely registered.
It was dark when I got home, and there was evidence of my visitors everywhere. I spent the next twenty minutes returning things to normal. A few days later, I laughingly described the disarray to their dad.
“I guess some people’s lives aren’t built for children,” he said.
I feel close to my brother-in-law, Bob, but he’d misunderstood the sentiment behind my story. As I wiped away sugary fingerprints, repositioned dimmers and returned pillows to their place, I ached with love for the adorable perpetrators. Like a deep-tissue massage of unused muscles, it felt good to have my well-ordered world so discombobulated.
I love being “Unky Tom.” Bob has commented more than once on my “mad uncling skills,” and I have a special relationship with each of my nine nieces and nephews. To the youngest, I’m the adult who swims with them in the rain and loses badly to them at Wii. To the teenagers, I’m the gay uncle who texts them during Project Runway and The Bachelorette.
When I took three of them to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter on opening weekend, they were effusive. I told them thanks were not necessary; just a spare room for my dotage.
“Fine… but it will have to be in Paris,” said twelve-year-old Maddie, an aspiring fashionista. Works for me.
Most gays and lesbians don’t have children, and we can sometimes feel like interlopers within our own extended families. On Christmas morning we pack up our presents and our pumpkin pie and drive to someone else’s house. A few hours later we leave the noise and the mess and return home. If we’re lucky, and I am, we walk in the door carrying fresh memories and a warm sense of connectedness.
It was that kind of day at Marcy and Bob’s last Friday, but this time the occasion was my 55th birthday. There was Marco Polo in the pool (my nieces and nephews cheat!), h-o-r-s-e on the driveway basketball court, bad Wii, and a carrot birthday cake. Pal blew out the candles before I could make a wish.
My gift was a remarkable silhouette of Duncan, meticulously cut by Marcy out of a single piece of black paper. It turns out her earlier visit had been a pretense to get a photo of my handsome little guy in profile.
At the end of the night I gathered my wet bathing suit, my gift, and a big piece of cake for the road. Saying our goodbyes in the kitchen, Marcy mentioned that she’d seen a Watermark slide on the screen at Enzian before a recent children’s feature, and she’d pointed out to the kids that it was their uncle’s newspaper.
Lily nodded and then wrinkled her nose. “Yeah, that was cool, but you need to talk to whoever made that ad,” she said. Lily’s the precocious one, always with a stack of books on her nightstand, and I was curious to hear her observation.
“Why sweetheart?” I asked.
“Because it had the word ‘gay’ in it,” she said. “I don’t think you wanted that.”
There was an awkward silence before the adults burst out laughing. It was not the response Lily expected.
“What?” she protested. “I’m just saying.”
As we moved toward the front door, it was clear that Marcy, Bob and I were on the same wavelength.
“Well, I think I know a conversation we’ll be having soon,” Bob said, smiling with the confidence of a parent who knows his daughter.
It’s a smudge we’ll clean together, and with love.