I Have It

I once wanted, desperately wanted, a circle that needed me, that wanted me, a place full of people who felt something was missing when I wasn’t there and noticed when I wasn’t there.  I wanted a community that wasn’t impressed with my name, income, accomplishments or anything else.  I wanted intrusive relationships with the kind of people who, when they “saw that coming,” did everything they could – at the risk of ticking me off – to stop that from coming.  I wanted intimacy, closeness that wouldn’t become distance when I made a mistake, or twenty, or a thousand – because I knew I would; just give me time. I wanted people I would do anything for: make sacrifices, get messy and uncomfortable, gladly.  And I wanted them to do the same for me, not because they owed me but because they love me.

I looked for all this under steeples, on tour buses and in rental cars, in a cubicle farm, on-line, but found only crumbs: short moments, tiny glimmers of it.

And as it sometimes does, lots of searching plus little finding added up to a head full of cynicism, a mouth pouring criticism and lot of other poisonous isms too.


Yesterday, Brian and Amy left for Texas and – because even the brightest people have flashes of stupidity – left their four kids in my care.  Well, they weren’t completely stupid: They left them with me and Becky.  Or so we all thought.

The plan was for me to meet my nieces and nephews at their house every day after school when the bus dropped them off, feed them some snack, make sure they did their homework, and then walk them to my house just a block away where they’d play, have dinner with us and then play some more.  Then, my nieces and nephews and I would walk back to their house for a good night’s sleep in familiar beds in rooms full of familiar sounds and shadows.  But plans change.

Late last night, Nathaniel (age five), the youngest and most scrawny and doe-eyed, and therefore most potentially pathetic looking, got sick.  All over his bed and his sheets.  He didn’t cry.  He just walked out of his room and laid down on the den floor behind the desk where I was typing.

I smelled him before I saw or heard him.  His scrawniness makes him stealthy.  There he laid, wreaking, stripped down to his underwear, fetal and shivering, eyes closed trying to go back to sleep.

I got him a blanket and a glass of water, balled him up in the corner of the couch and then headed to his room to survey the damage.  It was a total loss.  He helped me find clean sheets and waited patiently while I struggled to get them on without waking the other kids in the room – and without bumping my head (again) on the top bunk’s bottom.  Then it was back to sleep for Nathaniel, until an hour later when he streaked to the bathroom for a second round of purging.

I wet a towel and wiped is face after the first heave, not thinking there could possibly be a second in his tiny body.  And when the second arrived I got a hand and arm full of pungent goo from the gut of a resilient five year-old with fantastic aim.  He was a trooper: Not a single tear.  And with the last of it in the toilet, he casually closed the lid, flushed, sighed a sour sigh and waited for me to finish cleaning us both up.

He must have wanted his mother and I’m nothing close.  But he tolerated me and let me feel helpful.  He nodded answers to a barrage of questions I’m sure now his always-calm mother wouldn’t have asked.  Do you want something to drink?  Are you warm?  Cold?  Do you want to brush your teeth?  That makes me feel better when I throw up.  But people saying ‘throw up’ doesn’t so I won’t sat that any more I promise. Do you want me to rub your back? Get you anything? Or just leave?

I stayed awake for another hour, sitting outside his door, finding things to do on-line, at the ready, listening for the tiniest peep out of Mr. Stealth and his stomach bug in the next room.

I saw my wife for an hour today, my kids for maybe fifteen minutes.  I stayed at Brian’s house with Nathaniel instead, alternating between e-mails and phone calls and a challenging game of Lego Star Wars.  We ate popsicles, took a nap, washed sheets, watched some Scooby Doo cartoons and drank lots of water.

I was needed and wanted.  If I wasn’t here I would have been missed.  I wasn’t a musician or speaker or blogger today, just Uncle Shaun, who’s easy to beat at video games and thinks Scooby Doo is much scarier than it really is.  I was family.

Family helps, counts on it, assumes it will happen.

There’s no good reason my family should trust me with their kids.  We shouldn’t be this close. They know me – absent minded, sometimes undependable, often unorganized, always verbose me.

But they know I love them, even if loving them gets messy.  And it gets messy.  Sometimes you need a towel.

I have what I was looking for.  Soon, I’ll have more of it.