Some moments in life you remember because of the shock and pain of the event. For me, these moments are individual pages in the catalogue in my mind. I remember the basketball tournament and the pop of my knee as a player slammed me to the floor. The ski camp and the surreal jet of blood spraying into the air from my friend’s arm. The school playground and the steel pipe impacting my eye socket as I am tobogganing. And then there is the Baby House. You would think that going to Africa would provide other traumatic events. Things like being chased by a lion. Being robbed by armed men. Getting sick from malaria. But no. For me, it is being forced to go to the Baby House at the Iris Ministries base in Mozambique. Of course, Iris is known for rescuing orphans from the streets and the dump. They pour out love and food, education and medicine. They make people’s lives better. And 15 years on, locals still drop off dying babies at the front gates. So when my team arrives to teach in a school, everyone is salivating to go to the Baby House and love on the little kids. When I say “everyone,” I mean “everyone but me”. But despite my reluctance, I can’t find a way to wiggle out of the event. So we trudge up the dirt road to the Baby House and duck inside. When we arrive there are a few native workers moving efficiently between tasks. With little ado, the women on the team move confidently about, scooping up children into their arms. And even the men pick up the babies and little kids, holding, hugging, talking to them. Someone thrusts a child into my arms. I have that cold shiver of fear. Vainly, I try to remember what I did with my own kids. But my mind is blank. I try to smile. But the kid just stares at me. His eyes daring me to say something intelligent. I feel like a tree. And if males only speak an average of 7000 words in a day, I must have already said 6994 of them. Only the dregs of language come dribbling out of my mouth. I watch the other men for helpful clues. They are jiggling, juggling and twirling the children about. I think about jiggling the kid, but I’d probably give him brain damage. And I’m afraid that if I twirl him, I might fall down. And the kid is starting to weigh about 65 pounds. Every breath he takes seems to be adding to his mass. I feel like I am in a medieval dungeon. Enduring the rack or the incessant dripping of some water torture machine. On the inside, I am praying. Not for the kid. For myself. My original discomfort has morphed into agony. The seconds tick by like decades. If anything finally convinces me I am not a “kid-person,” this is it. And finally, someone rescues me. I am so glad to escape alive.
Because I am not a “kid person,” I have one technique I use to get them to like me. I ignore them. This is on the philosophy that kids are like cats. If you are allergic to them, they will make the first move. Cats are drawn to people that ignore them. It’s a kind of anti-magnetism. And my philosophy works pretty well. At first, they don’t pay attention. But then they start to sit beside me or show me a new toy or sit in my lap. I’m talking about kids now, not cats. This is ok. I suppose I could bring a gift or some candy. That might warm the kids up to me. But I was taught that only men of questionable character give candy to kids. And besides, ignoring them works. It inevitably leads to playing with cars or dolls or some game of hide and seek. I tire of this much sooner than they do. 37.5 seconds is my limit. So much for adult concentration. I have another technique for capturing the attention of children. Do something unusual. Make a funny face or hide behind furniture. Of course, if this doesn’t work, it makes me look like an idiot. “Mommy, why is that strange man on his hands and knees?”
I use the same technique with teens and pre-teens. Minus the crawling around on the floor. Mostly, I ignore them until they get comfortable with me. But for these older ones, I have two other instruments in my arsenal. These are the “Uncle” tools. I call them that because uncles are the ones who teach kids the mischievious things. Things that get them in trouble with their parents. Things like slurping milk through their nose. Or lighting bodily gases on fire. But those ones are not in my tool kit. Usually I start with baloney. Not made up stories. I mean real baloney. Just casually take a piece of that circular meat, fold it twice, then bite the pointed end off. When you open it up there is a nice round hole in the centre. And you can look through it. This works with any kind of meat. Or a tortilla. Even bread if you are desperate. Everybody loves this. Except adults.
The other night, I had to dip into the “Uncle” bag and pull out the second device in my toolbelt. Spoons. I was having dinner with Cathy, our friends and their two tweens. After the 15th slice of pizza, the kids started to get restless. Their boredom had already moved them to the “Mosquito Phase”. That’s the annoying phase where they start to buzz around their parent’s ears. Recognizing this, I got up and walked over to the buffet. I was momentarily distracted by the dessert, but then saw what I wanted: dessert spoons. They were, appropriately enough, “spooning,” stacked back to back, lying on their sides on white cloth. I grabbed 6 and quickly returned to the table. I then proceeded to hang a spoon from my nose. (Yes, I have talent.) There was a sudden burst of laughter from the tween end of the table and a scramble for the spoons. Soon there were pieces of metal hanging from lips and chins and cheeks. And people in the restaurant were all staring at us. I guess they don’t use spoons in this way in Brazil.
Using this technique I have successfully become a beloved “uncle” all around the world. Once I attended a wedding in England. As you would expect, it was held with regal ceremony in a 14th c cathedral. Beautiful. But then came the reception. Cathy and I were relieved to find ourselves seated with several friends. But the wedding planner obviously had a numbers problem for she also stuck all the pre-teens at our table. Again, they eventually got restive. Up came my spoon. Suddenly, spoons were sprouting on all sorts of body parts. Wedding reception, “saved,” I thought. Leaving the event I felt immensely pleased with myself. I had became the mentor to a generation of young people. The glow of goodness was nestled inside me as I made my way to the parking lot. On the way, one of the kids fathers stopped me. He said simply, “Thanks a lot.” At first I thought he was approving. But on reflection, I think he was just being sarcastic. His child walked by with 5 spoons on his face. Sometimes I have as much trouble with adults as with kids.
Good job uncle.