Sometimes, but not often, I find myself pining for the bad old days of genteel widower grief and free time, back when I could put a tire iron to my lugnut self and wrench out an essay or twelve without scheduling conflicts. Now, however, my life has taken a turn for the complicated, one that I never could have predicted in the period of my mourning. I've become a Family Guy.
Despite our nurturing hormones, neither Sandahbeth nor I ever really felt comfortable with the notion of having children. We were both less than thrilled with the American Way Of Offspring (you pay for 'em, the government owns 'em, media stupefies 'em, industry kills 'em), not to mention wariness of our own prowess as parents or fitness to reproduce. And then there was that pesky population bomb, the slow-mo kablooie of which continues to enrich our lives in so many ways. (Yes we had trouble with depression and how are you?)
We contented ourselves with kitties and other folks' kids, reciting the motto "You do the hardware, we'll do the software" as we troubadored about. In the end we compiled a goodly network of honorary nieces and nephews amongst the offspring of our more breed-friendly acquaintances, some of whom S commissioned as occasional Rent-A-Sons for tasks she couldn't handle and I had no time for. Plus, of course, we became instant best friends with any number of tender young tots on random street corners who'd dance and laugh and clap their soft hands and attempt to rifle the guitar case, even occasionally blackmailing their parents into sticking around for a couple more songs, before toddling off into the dusk leaving us heartbroken and relieved.
We'd sing the old country song "I Believe In You" with the line "I believe in babies" as "...other people's babies."
Insert fast-forward noise here. Lights! Music! And now, let's welcome the new Thaddeus! (clapclapclapclapclap) Okay, it's the old Thaddeus really, nearly 60 years old to be exact, but it's a new life and a new wife, one who came complete with relatives. A whole lot of relatives. Two sisters and a brother, two sons and a daughter, and grandkids and grandnieces and grandnephews seemingly boiling out of the ground like bats from a cave at sunset.
There wasn't any issue of me becoming the New Daddy — Ada's kids were grown and my most important feature was that I made Mom really really happy. But I was informed that I was automatically promoted to zaide (that's Grampa to you) by being married to bubbe (now who do you suppose zaide's hitched with?). This was definitely news to me — wasn't I sixteen about five minutes ago? I seen Grampa's picture, he's old, man! Not only that, Ada's Tribe came pre-equipped with its very own biological zaide, her utterly adoreable 93 year old father David.
So while I had to politely decline zaide-fication as well, it was clear I had to be something — I couldn't just hang out as Thaddeus That Guy Mom Married. But trust the universe, the answer always comes.
Last month, A and I were summoned to relative duty by her niece Rebecca. She was taking advanced acupuncture training in New Mexico (nice work if you can get it) and needed someone to help look after her three young'ns. Familial loyalty glowing in our eyes, we packed laptops and instruments and clothes and trekked the long road over the Cascades to Spokane, there to meet and greet with grandniece Chavi and -nephews Solly and Ziggy, as well as Daddy Anthony. Mom said "HiBye" and hightailed it.
The ensuing week was instructive for a non-parent, to say the least. Daddy was there to perform superhuman feats of comfort for distraught babies in full-fledged Mommy Withdrawal, so all we really had to do was help with the dishes and keep the home fires banked while he was at work. I became versed in such traditional American family rituals as Dropping Kids Off For School, Picking Kids Up From Dance Practice and the like, as well as the usual run of Siddown And Eat Please, It's Perfectly Good, No You Can't Have A Cookie.
Ada did her best auntie, especially with Chavi, with whom she had a special bond, but at first I was available for meals and chores and occasional dog chasing in the back yard and did a fast fade the rest of the time. I got some work done recording and kept up with my email, but I was definitely the absent (minded) professor. Despite the invisible man bit, the kids persisted in inflicting the title Uncle Thaddeus on me. And little by little I warmed up to the role, spending more time talking and walking and playing music for the little urchins.
By the end of the week, it reached the point where I was sternly lecturing grandneice over her bike-riding practices, confiscating her bike and making her walk home with her lower lip firmly extruded, like I was some kind of responsible adult or something. And then went and had a gentle talk with her afterwards as she hid under her blanket and peeked one eye out at me. Couldn't have good ol' Uncle Thaddeus being mean n all.
Next morning li'l Solly had a really bad bout of missing Dad gone to work, and I sat on the couch with him watching some version of Star Wars or other on the laptop while he bawled for daaadeeee for a little while, then fell asleep snuggling against me. I held still for fifteen minutes savoring the sweet, trusting quality of a dependent child snoozing under my armpit, an experience I'd never had before.
Okay. Fine. Uncle Thaddeus. I guess it just comes with the territory.