Sunday, July 21, 2013

Love, Anxiety & Gummy Bears

I just became an Aunt.
OK, not really. I've been a Aunt for a long time, but my 18 year old nephew just moved in with me.
And I have never been so happily anxious in my entire life. I mean - I am both ecstatic and es-SCARED at the same time. I have no idea what I am doing and yet I feel completely capable. I have worked with teens my whole life, and yet, this is different. This is the closest I am going to come to being a mom. This makes raising dogs seem like playing house. He's a good kid, ur, young man. He comes from New Jersey and is absolutely thrilled to be living out here. He has his own room, complete with humidifier, Sports Illustrated magazine and 235 hangers for his endless supply of tank tops, basketball jerseys and T-shirts. My hallways smell like Axe men's cologne and my dogs have never been happier to have an extra hand around to pet them and tell them how funny they are. I also know more about the NBA than I ever have before. For example, the NBA is an amazing basketball league where players in sneakers named after them trade around to different teams because they have no "loyalty." Jordan is the best basketball player ever, not Kobe. (I agree, but am still learning why.) Oh, and one guy, I forget his name, can fake like he is passing the ball behind his back and then pass it in front of himself. From what I hear, it is quite impressive, but I don't even remember what team he plays for. Obviously, I still need to study for my "NBA" in order to be up to standards as an Aunt.

So far, he has been here a week and I have learned so much about being an "Aunt" including:

  • It is not about me. It used to be about me, but now I am lucky if I get 5 minutes to myself.  If I do, it is usually at around 4:30 A.M. when he is sleeping.  (Hence, about the time I am writing this blog!) 
  • I can go ahead an eat AFTER I watch him burn a grilled cheese and explode a hot pocket in my microwave.
  • Being an Aunt is AWESOME.  And I mean both "Awesome" as in "Awesome Dude!" and "Awesome!" as in "Wow, look how deep the Grand Canyon is. I think I am going to throw up."

Having my nephew around has also taught me a lot about 18 year olds. I have never spent this much time with an 18 year old before. I have run teen groups and programs, but this is different.

Here is what I have learned about 18 year olds:

  • 18 year old boys are WAY younger than 18. However, 18 year old GIRLS are about 23.  This makes for much difficulty.
  • 18 year olds don't mind being around their Aunt, but you have to play it cool. Don't act too happy to see them. Don't pinch their face and tell them you love them. Don't clap when they make a basket, just nod and make that Bob Deniro pouty look with your lips. Don't act like YOU are 18 by singing old 90's rap songs. Act like you are just slightly bored with them, but still mildly amused when they can actually put the toilet seat down two days in a row.
  • The best way to show an 18 year that you love them is to be interested in what they are saying (Yes, even if you are not.) Oh, and buy them candy once in awhile.  
  • 18 year olds want their idependence, but they do not want to go it alone. Give them a bus pass if you don't believe me and see how far they get before they ask you to drive them somewhere.
  • Get them a job ASAP.  They need it to feel good about themselves and also to get out of your hair. 
  • Buy candy. Lots and lots of candy. They graze like cattle on sugar products.
  • They will "check themselves out" in any and all reflections - mirrors, window reflections, mall display boards, etc. When they do this, they will not even try to hide the fact that they are checking themselves out. They are shamelessly vain.
  • They need a haircut like, every week.
  • They can make their own food as long as it goes in the microwave, toaster, on the BBQ grill or doesn't have to be on the stove for more than 5 minutes. They have no idea how to use the big hot box right below the stove called an oven. This is your job.
  • If you leave the trash out in the middle of the room and it is completely full, they will walk around it.  If you actually want it taken out, you have to ask.
  • Ask before you go in their room so they think that the room belongs to them. Let them have their complete privacy unless they smell like smoke, pot, alcohol, or the perfume of the opposite sex. Then, ransack their room. Thankfully, I have not had to this. My nephew's room smells like dog and that is not his fault.
  • Never ask them if they are hungry. They are ALWAYS hungry.
  • Let them sleep. Yes, even if it is noon and the lawn still needs mowing. 
  • If you want them to do something, don't ask. Find a way to make them think it is their idea or at the very least, in THEIR best interest to do it. They really don't care if it makes Auntie happy at this point.  Then when they do what you want them to, just be glad it is done and hand them a bag of Swedish Fish. Don't turn it into a lesson on responsibility.
  • If something is broken, they can fix it. Even if they can't they will try for hours and then tell you that it probably can't be fixed. At that point, get a plumber/electrician/contractor.

And here is a biggie --
Their primary life goal at 18 years old is not college, career or anything like that---it is:
Go with it and try to remember how you felt the first time you got to drive your very own useless, back-firing, gas guzzling hunk of metal.
Their second biggest goal is:
And here's their plan on how to do that:
They do not want to work, sweat, study or toil for their riches. They want to get lucky. They want to invent an app. Win it all in a pool hall. Think of a computer gadget no one else has and sell the idea to Bill Gates. Win a TV contest. Be the top dirt bike athlete in the nation (without practicing.) They seem themselves retired to their villa in Belize by 30, sipping Mai Tais from a hammock while being fed gummy bears by a personal assistant in a skimpy bathing suit. If you're lucky, you'll have a run-down guest house in the back where you can pay off the credit card debt you incurred sending them to some over-priced UC school where they majored in Philosophy before dropping out to try out for American Idol.

So, I've learned a lot the last week, but the most important thing I have learned is that I had no idea how much I loved my nephew until he moved in. I have always been in his life--jaunting off to New Jersey every year to visit him and my sister or spending time with him when he came this way.  I have pictures of us together at the zoo, Legoland, his birthday parties, playing catch and riding inner tubes on lakes.  In each picture he ages...he is 4, 6, 10..16...years old depending on which album of pictures you look at. In every one, we always look happy together because we are. There has always been a genuine affection and love between us and anyone who knows me well, knows how much I love him. (If you want to know if you love someone, let them ride their bike in the dark after your bedtime and then see if you can fall asleep. I tried it and the answer is no. I want to apologize to my staff who had to put up with me on Wednesday after I had only slept four hours the night before.)
But it's different now. Not the love, but the responsibility. For both of us.
He's not a baby. He's not a kid, but he still needs me.
I'm not his Mom; I'm still his Aunt, but now I'm not visiting. And I'm not leaving either.
So this tall, stubble chinned, sun burnt shouldered, hairy-legged 18 year old is living in an upstairs room and I am scared to death of what is to come and yet feel elated to be a part of his life.
I know he is watching my every move to learn how he should act in my house and in the world. He listens to what I say, how I say it and who I say it about. I am teaching him every time I open my mouth, every time I move, with everything I watch, read and buy.
And that's what scares the GUMMY BEARS out of me.
One thing I know for sure:
I am in God's hands and he is GOOD.
He loves Brennan and he loves me. I pray everyday for patience, wisdom, strength and then more patience. I pray that God will help me be a good example to this candy-gulping, community college bound, currently unemployed young man from New Jersey. If you pray, please do the same.

And if you know where I can get bulk candy really cheap, let me know.

-Hope A. Horner
Follow on Twitter @HopeNote

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