VLB and his girlfriend have been together for years now, including a year or so during which my brother moved all the way to California before resuming residence on the East Coast. There’s very little doubt in my mind that those two are headed towards the altar sooner or later. VLB finally has a decent job in his chosen field with career longevity potential, and his girlfriend will be finishing her undergraduate degree at the end of the summer, so it’s really just a matter of time. Still, I took a certain amount of interest in their visit and what it might potentially represent. The drive from where they live in Massachusetts to my humble abode would normally take eight hours and change, but since they came on the Friday of Memorial day weekend it ended up being around twelve hours. In and of itself, that can be quite the endurance test for a fledgling relationship. Once they arrived (or more accurately, after they arrived and got some sleep and everyone woke up the following morning) they were pressed into familial service, holding the baby and playing with the two older kids. And that can be its own kind of relationship test, whenever two people are thinking about making a family of their own and wondering how effective their partner will prove as a child-rearing partner. Some people get a pet; some people contrive to spend time with other people's kids.
Fortunately, everything about the visit went as well as could be expected. On Saturday morning my wife had to work, and the rest of us simply stayed home. We got some fresh air in the front yard, where I sat and held the baby and talked to my presumptive sister-in-law while VLB made chalk drawings on the driveway with the little guy and little girl. In the afternoon, after my wife was home and naptime was over, there was the requisite gift-giving by which aunts and uncles thoroughly spoil their nephews and nieces. But even that did not derail the customary dinner/bath/bedtime rituals, nor the new Saturday Night Movie tradition for the little guy, so all was well.
Except of course that the baby had one of his periodic rough nights of sleep that night, so the following day my wife (who bore the brunt of sleeplessness) stayed home with the baby while the rest of us went to the National Zoo. I honestly believed that given all the other things going on that holiday weekend - a Nationals homestand, Rolling Thunder, the inherent connection between Memorial Day and the monuments on the Mall or the graves at Arlington Cemetery - that the Zoo would be a reasonably accommodating destination. But it turned out to be pretty well swarmed by visitors that day, in crowds significantly larger than the Zoo is really designed to serve. Any zoo is kind of a hit-or-miss proposition for small children even on the best of days, since there’s never any guarantee that the cool animals will be doing anything interesting, or even out anywhere visible, when you approach their enclosures. On a slow day, you can at least hang out in front of the enclosure for as long as you like until your hopes of catching a glimpse of the beast within fade entirely. When the zoo is thronging with people lining the enclosure viewing areas two or three deep, it’s much less appealing.
But then again, we were in luck because as we perused the map of the exhibits the little guy decide the thing he really wanted to see the most was the flamingos. So while certain leopards were hiding or sleeping and sloth bears were camouflaged and tucked away in bamboo stands, the flamingos were out in full force, noisily fighting over food and flapping their wings and generally making a spectacle. The little girl, for her part, was interested in the animals somewhat but more interested in being carried everywhere by her aunt, who had apparently been christened the new Best Person Ever at some point along the line. And bless her heart, my brother's girlfriend never once complained about the little girl clinging to her for hours on end.
We didn’t stay very long at the zoo, in part because we had opted to take the Metro in and that took longer than expected due to suspended service along sections of the rails which diverted riders onto buses (WMATA: Still Totally The Worst!!!). You can probably guess where this point is headed, though: the little guy was actually thrilled that he got to ride a city bus AND a subway train (he especially liked that I let him stand next to me holding a pole while the train was in motion) AND several escalators that went waaaaaay down underground, and the Metro-oriented parts of the day were as much fun as the Zoo parts, if not moreso. For her part, the little girl quite enjoyed sitting on her aunt’s lap on the bus and the train, as well. So there’s that.
And finally, on Sunday evening we had a little cookout. Nothing fancy at all, just burgers and dogs on the grill and a pot of baked beans on the side burner plus a superabundance of beers my brother was kind enough to run to the Total Wine and More to obtain (he may be a few years past 21, but he still found Total to be a place of wonder akin to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory; for that matter, I’m closing in on 21-times-2 and I feel the same way). Memorial Day makes for a perfectly functional unofficial kickoff of summer but I always consider the season truly begun the first time I cook dinner on the grill for guests, and the two just happened to coincide this year. We were even able to eat out on the back deck, as the weather hadn’t gotten too hot (yet) and not too many bugs had hatched (yet). Oh, and there was pie, store-bought but not too shabby.
So yeah, all in all a good visit and a reasonable foundation upon which to build the expectation that my own kids will end up with some cousins sooner or later. I won’t be able to take too much credit for it if it happens, I know, even though our kids were so close to ideal behavior most of the weekend that I felt compelled to tell my brother than, all in all, I don’t really recommend anyone having three kids in a span of less than five years, because it ain’t always easy. All I know is that I am looking forward to getting to be the uncle who spoils the nieces and nephews. (My wife looks forward to her corresponding aunthood as well.) One of these days!