My brother and sister-in-law tried to tell us, but we paid no attention. The snickers behind the words of warning should have told us everything we needed to know. We brushed it off. Dismissed it. Said, “It will be fine.” Then it happened. My niece, her husband, and three children ages 10, 9, and 5 arrived for a visit. They were on their way home from a Disney vacation in Florida.
We don’t have children. We’re used to adults, adult activities, adult homes and furnishings. We’re not used to having children around; not used to thinking about what’s on a table or low shelf that could be at risk, what could be used as a projectile. We’ve never had to give thought to slopped food on couches, crayon drawings on tables, grubby handprints on every wall.
“I won’t tell you twice,” is apparently a thing of the past. When we were young and our parents said, ‘no’ or ‘stop that,’ it meant something and would be backed up by some unpleasant consequence if ignored. I heard the words ‘No’ and ‘stop that’ more times in those three days (Wait, was it only three days?) than I’d heard in the decade previous. And they were ignored. Every time. With no consequences.
Don’t get me wrong. They were good kids. They were just kids. Kids being kids. Kids accustomed to kids’ homes and furnishings, to seeing walls as blank canvasses, to thinking every cabinet, closet, and drawer is meant for their investigation. Kids for whom every room is the dining room. Kids who thought doors were supposed to be slammed as they ran inside and back out 1000 times a day. They were just being themselves.
Meanwhile, I’m sitting white-knuckled in my chair, a teeth-clenched smile plastered on my face, trying my hardest to not be the grumpy old geezer who only knows how to yell and point my finger and put an end to their fun, all the while attempting to have a calm and civilized conversation with the oblivious parents—and hoping the top of my head won’t blow off.
I hope the glee I felt when they said they were leaving an evening earlier than expected didn’t show on my face. They had decided to drive home overnight and miss the traffic. I also hope they didn’t hear my bellow of relief as they were rolling out the driveway. The reality is, I love them all and am glad they stopped for a visit—though, it’s interesting how that love seemed to grow as the taillights faded into the night.
They called the next day to say they had made it home safely, to thank us for our hospitality, and to tell us how much fun they’d had. They mentioned something about another trip and stopping by again for a visit; said they’d let us know when that was going to be.
Darn, I think we’re out of town that week.