I have an older brother that serves in the United States Army. Naturally, I’m very proud of that fact. However, even more proud of that fact is, apparently, my very own son, who can’t get enough of his uncle and his uncle’s whole family. Last summer we flew to Texas to visit them at their house, which is farther away from any major airport than a house has a right to be, and stayed a whole week. On the plane flight back, as we were lifting off, my very own son started to get misty-eyed. I asked what was wrong and he said,
“My uncle is just so awesome.” Indicating that he was going to miss hanging out with his uncle.
“Yes, well, he is,” I said. “But your dad is pretty cool, too, right?”
“Oh, yeah. Sure.”
It helps that my brother has a son that is my son’s age (along with two teenage daughters, for which I do not feel sorry for my brother – I’m glad I don’t have to manage them). Those two boys are a handful when they get together, though, which is not often enough in my opinion. But it also helps that my brother is, as I mentioned, in the Army. We’ve seen tanks and helicopters and even a change of command ceremony, which, to a kid is totally amazing. So, I love taking my son to visit his uncle and his cousin.
We have a lot of interesting memories of the times we’ve gone to Texas: In Austin (they’re still keeping it weird), we took canoes down Barton Creek (which feeds into the Colorado River) and swam in the Barton Springs pool; south of Austin (and not as weird) we toured a cave system that runs under the highway (but don’t worry, it’s safe…); near the Army base we explored fossil-rich public lands, after which I had to empty out every pocket of my son’s pants for about six pounds of shells he was hoarding; and we hiked to a beautiful waterfall at Colorado Bend. But of all these adventures, one sticks out far ahead of the others.
During one of these visits, when my son and his cousin were both six, we decided to spend a day just taking it easy. We’d been running around the last couple of days and it wears you out, especially in Texas, where the summer heat is so unforgiving that you set your air conditioner to 90 and count it as a victory. We played some board games, watched some movies, jumped on the trampoline, and generally lazed around. But after dinner, everyone congregated in the family room upstairs, which is really just lofted area that overlooks the living room but is spacious enough for a long couch and a television console. Somehow we fit our brother, his wife, his three kids, me, and my son into the room.
We didn’t really plan anything specific. In fact, we all kind of wandered in over the course of about fifteen minutes. It started with my brother wanting to show me the Beatles Rock Band game for the Nintendo Wii. Normally, I wouldn’t care much for the Rock Band series of games, but remember that it was 90 in the house and so I may have been hallucinating and thinking it was a new Super Mario game. Not only did they have the Beatles game, but they had several guitar controllers, a drum set, and a microphone. He promised a good time would be had, so we turned on the game and started goofing around. One by one the rest of the family wandered in, picking up a Wii instrument and playing a new part in the game. Soon I saw that we had my niece on microphone, belting out the songs with abandon, my other niece on drums*, my brother on one of the guitars, and me on another guitar.
While my sister-in-law was happy to just watch, enjoying having zero responsibilities for a short while (and a glass of wine), my son and his cousin didn’t want to play any instruments. But they did want to dance. In the middle of one song, my six-year old nephew suddenly popped up off the floor and broke out the robot. How do you do the robot to a Beatles song? I don’t know, but that kid did it, stalking across the floor in a herky-jerky, laser-focused imitation of a vintage toy robot. My own son, for his part, doesn’t know any dance moves, but he can throw himself around like some kind of “Dancing with the Stars: Stuntman Edition” contestant, which he did enthusiastically. It was a sight. My brother laughed so hard that the video game Paul McCartney started to get annoyed at how many chords he was missing.
We stayed at it for most of the night, with yours truly bringing down the overall game score with my seriously cruddy guitar playing. But the best part? Early on, I thought something special might be happening, so I faked a bathroom break and grabbed the video camera from my bag, setting it up precariously on a bookshelf without telling anyone. I recorded the whole thing. Once in a while, when I’m on the computer for whatever reason, I’ll pull up the video and give it a watch. To an outsider it probably looks like a mishmash of tone-deaf adults and dorky (but still cool) kids who need to work on their gaming skills. To my family, it’s a moment etched in time that always brings on that warm fuzzy feeling like only family can.
…Until my nephew pops up in front of the camera performing the robot. That’s just hilarious. I’ll make sure to remind him of it when he’s older.
*Did I mention my niece really plays the drums, and three other instruments, including the piano? What’s that all about? I can play the recorder… Meh.
Post Script – MojoFiction loves video games, but the violent content sometimes goes over the top even for us. However, video games don’t necessarily deserve the bad name they have. There are a number of excellent family games, party games, and violent-game substitutes out there, much of it ushered in by Nintendo with their original Wii system. If you think video games are a blight on humanity, or if you use them as a parenting crutch now and then, think about how you can make them a family activity. You can enjoy quality time with the kids on a cold winter day and know they’re not playing a game where you sniper-shoot bad guys in the head.