This past week, our young nieces stayed with us. It was the last week of the school holidays, with the new school year starting on Monday. We all had a good time.
It’s the second time they’ve stayed with us and, as with every time I’m around young children for a while, I ended up with a renewed respect for parents of young children. As uncles and temporary caregivers, we get the good bits—the fun times, the laughs, the right to spoil them endlessly—but parents also have the unrelenting responsibility for their children’s health and wellbeing, something we have only temporarily.
Every year, school-age children have far more time off school than parents have time off work. Even if parents take their annual leave at different times of the year, without childcare programmes or relatives who can look after children during some of the school holidays, I have no idea how most parents could cope. Fortunately, we have a very large extended family so finding available family members to serve as caregivers isn’t that hard.
Here are some things I learned as a temporary caregiver:
1. Their energy seems limitless, never exhausting them, but oddly zapping the energy of the adults watching over them. Perhaps they draw off adults’ energy?
2. They can consume far more food than would seem possible, given their small size. You have no idea how much I envy that.
3. Television is a great attention grabber and holder for young kids. It seems like they can watch it for hours, though it’s really only around an hour (see number one; time passes differently for adults).
Disney Channel was the favourite, but I was amazed at how shallow their live-acted shows are. More surprising to me was the extent to which pretty young kids were put into a more or less adult contexts in which they were dealing with relationships with kids of the opposite sex, even at ages that made that seem an unlikely preoccupation. I was also surprised at how many of Disney’s programmes were, at best, culturally insensitive and sometimes even kind of offensive. There were Asian kids in every programme I saw, usually African Americans, but not always Hispanic kids.
And finally about Disney, over the course of the week I came to believe that if there was a hell, then Miley Cyrus would be singing the soundtrack, probably with the entire cast of “High School Musical” (any version) providing backing vocals and all the dance moves. Good thing I don’t believe in hell—or is “Hannah Montana” it?
Fortunately, television was a minor diversion and other things were far more central—especially spoiling them with treats they don’t usually get (like McDonald’s) or new clothes. The Wii gave them hours of active entertainment, and they wore out poor Jake, running around and playing with him.
The truth is, they couldn’t possibly give us more happiness if they tried: They’re really good girls, fun and a joy to be around. But it’s great being uncles because after a week of spoiling our nieces we give them back to their parents to pick up the pieces. Hey, that rhymes—I guess I really did see too much children’s television.