Declan attended a pair of birthday parties last month where he, of course, had a grand time. I probably felt more out of place than he did, helping man a game-booth at the first party, primarily so I could keep an eye on my little guy. I'm sure it was in part because most everyone there, although classmates of Declan and their family, were strangers to me for the most part. I was, however, just as concerned about the havoc my little man might unleash if I were absent.
Ten minutes into the second party, the following day, Declan had definitely noticed that I was still lingering around the bowling alley while all the other, more experienced, parents had dropped their kids off and left.
"Aren't you going to leave too Dad?" he asked me, pausing a moment from the party.
"Well, yeah, I could. Do you want me too?" I stuttered in response.
Declan made a shooing gesture with his hands and nodded his head in affirmation, "Yeah, go. Go home." he said.
I had been shooed away by my little man for the first time, our bond momentarily put aside so that he could conform with the rest of his classmates.
I had no room to complain, Declan's actions quickly brought back memories of a similar scenario when I was a young boy. My Mom, the fiercely protective den-mother that I have referred to in the past, could probably give a much earlier instance when I carried out an action similar to Declan's, but the one I remembered happened when I was in eighth grade.
My mother has a colorful assortment, personality wise, of sisters. "The Aunts," as my brother Casey and I refer to them, are all three very unique in both their appearance and their lifestyle.
Growing up, visits with the "Aunts" each provided its own opportunities. Aunt Leah was by far the best shopper, provided the best gifts and made the most amazing lasagna. Aunt Debbie, while not known for her cooking, usually lived outside of town, in a rural setting of some sort. She had three boys of similar ages to my brothers and me, which usually resulted in all sorts of mischief that city-folk like my brothers and I typically weren't exposed too.
Aunt Linda, the eldest of the sisters, was probably the wildest of the bunch. She and I bonded when I was very young and I usually spent more solo time with her than any of the other Aunts. She would disappear for a year or so and then reappear with a new boyfriend, who always promised to have plenty of character.
Eighth grade rolled around and I was the new kid in a small Montana town. I had made the basketball team, but barely, and was struggling to find my comfort zone among my peers. My mother was always very vocal at my games, I had grown used to it, but the first game of the season that year my Aunt Linda was sitting next to her, across the court from where my team sat.
I had never given any thought to how any of my aunts looked, they were just my aunts. But that day Aunt Linda had waited until she made eye contact with me from across the basketball court and then waved proudly at me. Just as I began to smile and wave cheerfully back at her, several of the players on the bench next to me erupted in laughter.
"Oh my God, did you see that!' one of them explained, elbowing the boy next to him, "That woman with the giant afro just waved over here!" the rest of the players burst into laughter and began looking at one another to see who she was waving at.
My Aunt Linda always has been a pretty woman, don't get me wrong, but she was probably a 5 foot 5 inches tall Caucasion woman and happened to be sporting a 1970's, jet-black permed, intensly flammable, hairdo, that in addition to having significant width, probably touched a height over the 6 foot mark. I'm sure it was grand in other settings, but at the time it was the late 80's, and we were Jr. High School boys.
I quickly cut short my return wave before any of my teammates noticed and focused my poker-gaze intently on the basketball game at hand. I knew I had snubbed my aunt but I wasn't about to give my cackling teammates anything extra to rib me about.
If my Aunt Linda noticed the snub, she never said anything to me about it, she heaped me with praise for my play following the game, just as she always did. I didn't feel particularly guilty about it then, 8th grade was a nightmare of a school year for me overall and that incident was merely one example in a long list of survival tactics I had tried.
When Declan grinned at me that day in the bowling alley and motioned for me to go home, the memory of snubbing my aunt was somehow yanked from its hiding place in my memory banks. As much as I wanted to tell him to go back to his party and not fret about me, I knew the right thing to do was to grin back at the little guy and agree to leave him to his party.
Perhaps I should check in on my Aunt Linda, I thought to myself as I walked out.