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On being an aunt (4) – 2016 Grateful 23

aunt1Well, the boy has gone. Back home. To his parents. I survived. He survived. He even went shopping (hates it) and bought presents for everyone. He’s not fond of parting with his money but I managed to spend most of it for him and by the end of the week he was volunteering to spend it. That’s progress.  That’s an education that will stand him in good stead down the road 🙂  He really has the makings of a lovely young man.

He said he loves Budapest. Loves the city. Loves the atmosphere. When I asked what the best part was, he said it was making new friends. Knackered though I was, I found the energy to be suitably impressed. It wasn’t the fact that he could do what he liked when he liked (mostly) or eat what he wanted when he wanted (always) or decide what to do each day without having to consider his brother. It was that he made new friends. Perhaps there is hope for the human race yet.

The boy is a game addict. He’s rarely without his phone or his iPad or whatever it is he plays his games on. But this past week, his new friends were into different sorts of games – the ones you play with people, using your imagination. Had I to graph his phone usage in the week he was here, it was trending downwards. That’s good, I think. That’s definitely good.

The place is quieter without him, even though he’s more the speak-when-spoken-to type – unlike his brother who would talk for Ireland. It feels a little empty. And while I enjoyed his visit, I’m glad to have my space back. I need to work. To get back to doing everything I had planned to do last week and didn’t. The bills have to be paid.

AuntI’m getting glowing reports from across the sea. I could well be his favourite aunt right now (but he only has two). He’s even said that he’s coming for the whole summer next year, if I’ll have him.  Now there’s an expectation that needs to be dampened. The thoughts of spending a whole summer in this city is bringing me out in a cold sweat, which in this horrible heat is no mean feat.

But I’m glad he was so impressed with Budapest living. And I’m glad he met some new people and had a chance to be himself, to show some independence, to fly on his own. And I’m grateful for all I’ve learned this week and for the tiny increase in my patience levels. It’s been fun.

 

On being an aunt (3)

Emboldened by my self-perceived success with three 13-year-olds, and having enjoyed another whole day with just two of them, I was feeling brave. This time I borrowed three other kids and took four of them to the zoo.

I’d spent the previous day in Palatinus, the open air pool complex down on Margit Sziget (Margaret Island). It all went to plan. Not that I had a  plan other than to lie in the sun and read while the two boys amused themselves on the slides and in the wave pool. They took their charge seriously and dropped by every hour or so as agreed to give me time to take a dip in the pool. They also came by when they were hungry. They’d only met a few days before and yet they seemed to intuitively know what the other wanted to do. Amazing how simple relationships and friendships can be before we start adding judgement, preconceptions, and expectations to the mix.

budapest-palatinus

But to the zoo.

I have sod all experience when it comes to kids. Add this to a heightened sense of awareness of other people and a sometimes overpowering streak of consideration and you’ll get to the basket of nerves I was when we set off.

Is it possible to control four kids between the ages of 11 and 14? And even if it were, should I be bothered? Shouldn’t kids be let do kid things and make noise and ask questions and enjoy themselves without me, the adult, raining on their parade? Yes, I reasoned, they should. So I promised myself that I would swallow the chastisements and bite my tongue any time I felt the urge to caution or to reprimand. I told myself that no matter how loud they were, they were just being kids. And the rest of the world would just have to deal with it.

zoo2I nearly came a cropper when I opted out of the America House (in Budapest Zoo, there is a series of houses that are home to animals and birds from various parts of the world) and went for coffee. One of them came with me and within earshot of a lone woman enjoying her latte and her book, I was quizzed on Knock Knock jokes. The lady seemed a tad annoyed but that was nothing to when the others joined us and began to explain, at full volume, what they’d seen. I stifled a ssshhh and let them at it. She packed up her book and took out her paints and resigned herself to a less than peaceful second half to her coffee break. Fair play.

Only once did I hear the s word – spoil sport. But I was right. There is a limit to what they can be let do and there is a time when consideration of others and a certain amount of awareness of the consequences of your actions is needed. He got over it. Eventually. And I learned that far from being seen and not heard, kids need to question, to explore, to laugh aloud, to run riot … they need to be kids because they’ll be adults long enough.

I made the fatal mistake of commenting on how sad the rhinoceros looked and how cramped his space seemed to be. That set them off on a series of evaluations of the amenities other, smaller, animals enjoyed. And then wondering about whether the animals were happy. And for a while I thought I was going to have to deal with a minor bout of hysteria. Thank the gods for ice-cream.

My 4pm meeting was postponed till 5 so I had an extra hour to fill. We hit the lake in Varosliget where I rented a paddle boat and sent them off to sea,  figuring that if they capsized, there were plenty of able-looking blokes in staff t-shirts on hand to save them. One did slip and fall on  their back in water and I was proud that I didn’t panic. They were laughing so I took that as my cue to ignore the incident and say nowt.

It was bloody hard work though, keeping an eye on them and keeping track of them and answering the litany of questions that arose on stuff I know nothing about. It was humbling in a way. And it was instructional. And perhaps I’ll be a little more tolerant of other people’s kids in future and not expect them to be little paragons of virtue, sitting quietly and behaving. Perhaps.

 

On being an aunt (2)

When it comes to dealing with kids, I don’t have any experience to draw on, other than vague and somewhat distorted recollections of what it was like for me way back when. But that was back in the day when we were thrown out of the house after breakfast on a Saturday morning and told not to reappear until 1pm and then it was out again till tea-time at 6pm. We owned nothing that had a plug on it. Batteries were about as technical as we got. And we had to make do with games we made up as we went along.

Life was simple… and safe.

So although I have clear memories of being 13, comparing it to being 13 today is a little like comparing snakes and ladders to minecraft. I figured it might help to borrow a couple of other 13-year-olds and let them all amuse themselves. Take the pressure off and limit my interaction [it takes serious energy to keep up a conversation with these kids].

dinoszaurusz-kiallitas-millenaris-jegyek-belepo-living-dinosaurs-budapestWe headed over to the Dinoszaurusz Kiállítás (Living Dinosaurs) exhibition in Millenáris. I figured it should keep them amused for a couple of hours at least, but hadn’t reckoned on the short attention spans that are a byproduct of our multi-media age. In under an hour they’d seen all they had to see. And this was not part of the plan.

I remembered that to keep me amused on long car journeys, my mother would make me memorise stuff. I can recite the 32 counties of Ireland and all the towns and villages you passed through on the road from Waterford to Dublin (before the bypasses). I remembered how my dad quizzed me on where the four sugarbeet factories were and which team played in what GAA sportsground. I needed to keep them occupied. To keep them engaged. To keep them focused on something other than being bored. So I wrote out 12 questions (all dinosaur-related) and told the three lads to go find the answers [In fairness, I had warned them at the start that there might be a quiz.]

First question they asked: Is there a prize? Yes.
Second question: What is it? A pizza lunch – as much as you can eat.
Note to self: Food is still a winning factor.

There’s a lot to be said for competition and cooperation. Two of the three read Hungarian so they had an advantage but the 12 questions were divvied out in such a way that all three could contribute. There are some managers I know who could learn a lesson from this. [My bonus question was: Guess which of the dinosaurs Mary would like to have as a pet. The answer: The one she likes most. These boys ain’t stupid.]

Over pizza afterwards in Marxim, the conversation was broad and wide-ranging covering everything from Euro 2016 (and the accompanying changes to European geography since its inception) to what Trump as President would mean for the world. Conversation flowed freely, each feeling comfortable enough to contribute their take on the world without fear of judgment or recrimination. There are some teachers I know who could learn a lesson from this.

I was mega impressed when my lad offered to pay and then thanked the other two for coming along. There are some adults I know who could learn a lesson from this.

They might have learned loads about dinosaurs but I reckon I learned a little more about kids and how much they could teach us, if we only took the time to watch, listen, and engage.

PS Exhibition is well worth a visit – the T-Rex is positively life-like.