I could not understand the urgency with which my parents had delivered my perfectly darling 2-year-old nephew, Charlie, to us last weekend for an overnight stay while my sister and her husband were away.
“Good luck,” my dad said hurriedly as he tossed me Charlie, his diaper bag and car seat before grabbing my mom by the arm and bolting to the car they had left running.
I turned to Charlie, who looked up with a smile that could melt even the hardest of hearts, saying, “Hi, Doo!” (He is a genius.)
Why my parents were so quick to end their shift with these 36 pounds of charm was beyond me. He was pure delight, tickling my husband with a plastic dinosaur and dancing with our kids. None of us wanted playtime to end, but according to my sister’s two-page instructions, we were behind schedule for lunch. Charlie enthusiastically agreed upon macaroni and cheese, singing about it while I cooked and clapping when I spooned it onto his plate.
But when it came time to actually eat the food, a switch flipped. He arched his back like an Olympic contortionist, screaming, “NO! NO! NO! CHARLIE NOT EAT!” Gone was the lovable ball of joy, instantaneously replaced by a diaper-wearing, dinosaur-wielding terrorist, eyes burning with fire as he thrashed and wailed with biblical force.
It has been five years since we have had a toddler of our own, and we had long-forgotten what it was like to have a 3-foot-tall munchkin with bipolar disorder and limited English waddling around. But it quickly came back to me.
Just like a good aunt should, I tossed him a cookie and hoisted him into bed for naptime with his teddy bear and favorite blanket. And then, just as my sister had outlined in her highly detailed instructions, Charlie looked up at me and requested a song.
“Which song?” I asked, thankful the demons had somehow exorcised themselves after his macaroni meltdown and only my sweet baby nephew remained, no longer armed with foot-long brontosaurus.
“‘Silent Night,’” Charlie said with a grin, pulling the covers to his cherub face.
I cannot find the appropriate words to describe the rest of the bedtime routine other than to recommend that you take a moment this afternoon and sing “Silent Night” to a small child and tell me you don’t feel like a complete moron.
After 22 more mentally grueling hours on his roller coaster of kissing, hugging and dinosaur slugging, we returned our only nephew to my parents with the same vigor they had displayed the day before and promptly crashed on the sofa to wallow in our Post-Toddler Stress Disorder.
“He is so freaking cute …” I started, unsure of how to finish the sentence and questioning my ability to love unconditionally.
“That’s just how toddlers roll,” my husband wearily reminded me. “They suck you in with cuteness. Next thing you know, you’ve got a plastic dinosaur shoved up your nose.”