Popcorn and Hot Chocolate

Two of the kids whom I do not see very often came over the other night.  My niece is a junior in high school and my nephew is in middle school.  It was good to see them, but a certain sadness came over me just the same.

These two are the youngest children of my sister-in-law’s second husband (they divorced several years ago).  Most of his brood of eight (who joined my sister-in-law’s three kids from her first marriage) are now adults and scattered among several different states.  My wife tries to keep up with them on Facebook and we see them now and then.

I am sorry to report that my sister-in-law’s ex recently saw fit to divest himself of responsibility for his last two kids still at home by essentially dumping them on one of their sisters (and her husband).  It’s nice that the kids are now just 40 miles away instead of out of state.  But I can’t begin to imagine what it must feel like to be pawned off by one’s dad in such a manner.

When I first met my niece, she was two years old.  While visiting at her house, I heard a squeak from down the hall that sounded like “Hep! Hep!”  One of the other kids had played a mean trick on her by placing her on top of the clothes dryer.  That little bit of a thing was stuck up there like a china doll with no way to climb down.

It had to be tough growing up with so many brothers and sisters.  My niece was known as a biter.  I suppose she had to have some way to defend herself in her rough and tumble world.  Her weapon of choice was her teeth.

My nephew, who has developmental disabilities, had just turned one when I met him, and was still in diapers.  With so many siblings in that blended household, we made a lot of “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Yours, Mine and Ours” jokes (anyone still remember that movie?).  We had to save up all year long to have enough Christmas presents to go around.

My nephew had a very special bond with his great-grandmother (who has since passed on), but he loves his Nana (Pastor Mom) dearly and retains fond memories of being spoiled rotten by her when he was little.  When he was visiting the other night, he requested popcorn and hot chocolate, so it would feel just like the old days.  When I arrived home from work, the house stank of microwave popcorn and he and his sister were stretched out on the living room floor, enjoying their snack in front of the TV.

While I was in the kitchen making myself a sandwich, my niece wandered in and asked me how my new job is going.  It’s hard to believe that the tiny girl stuck up there on the dryer is nearly all grown up now.  When she was maybe nine or ten, and I was still a pescatarian, she called me out by demanding to know why I ate fish if I was a vegetarian.  This bothered me for years until, realizing that she was right, I changed my ways.  (Eventually, I went all the way and became vegan.)  Funny how kids tell it like it is.

In the kitchen, my niece discussed college plans, career options and the differences between living in Las Vegas and Sacramento.  I beamed when she explained that she is active in Student Council.  She expressed disappointment that she hadn’t yet figured out what to do with her life and I assured her that a lot people my age still haven’t found an answer to that quintessential dilemma.  I encouraged her to study a broad range of disciplines and to avoid committing to any one of them until necessary.  This is your opportunity to learn and grow, to become a well-rounded person, I told her.

It is gratifying to see that despite having survived a drug addict birth mother and a father with many problems, despite having been tossed from pillar to post all her young life, my niece seems to have turned out just fine.  I’m very proud of her.

And I’ll try not to remind her about the biting thing.

Although I might say something about how she used to remember how to spell “banana” by blurting out the lyrics to Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl.”

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