There are few things in life that can be truly categorized as indescribable (especially for someone as verbose as myself): the emotion that comes with proposing to the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life; the first sensation of gravity pulling on you as you skydive out of a plane; or the moment you realize you may never see a grandparent again. While you may think you're able to articulate these moments, there's always an ingredient of emotion that exceeds translation. That said, I'll try my best to share something that truly belongs in this group... I was recently reminded of moments like these over lunch with my sister, brother-in-law and fiancee, when my sister dropped in a simple phrase, "Oh, and we're expecting, by the way" into conversation. Thinking she hadn't completed the sentence, I believe I rambled on in conversation a moment (remember "verbose?") that is, until I realized what had been said. Stunned silence and wide eyes were followed quickly by grins and a somewhat numb-skulled, "Wait, what?!" on my part.
My sister and I have been great friends ever since we grew up, with little drama and no schisms to speak of. Ever since she left for college though, we've spent years geographically apart with only occasional times to catch-up around the holidays and such. Only recently, after my move to New York, was the notion of getting together weekly or monthly a prospect that was feasible. And so, as she and my brother-in-law broke the news, it made the occasion all the more sweet! Not only were we to welcome the next generation soon, but I'd be able to share in the responsibilities that come with being an uncle in person.
My joy within days after gave way to a determination to be the best, most amazing and epic uncle a guy could ever be for a young niece or nephew (and a set of new parents for that matter - can you say "babysitter?") Research ensued and hasn't really stopped - what can I say? I like to be prepared. So, I thought I'd share a few of the core tenets of "stellar uncle-dom" that I've come across and with which I aspire to carry on.
1. Be present! Books always help, but especially in the first couple years, the best thing you can do, both for the little one and the parents, is to be a resource to take the burden off the grueling parenting schedule from time-to-time. It also helps to simply be familiar, loving and consistent for the young developing child to see and hear you...even if much of your vocab for a year or two is "goo-goo" and "gaa-gaa."
2. Be fun! This is one that I always inadvertently get nervous with, since I'm still really worried about the kid's safety. But kids need to be physically active and mentally stimulated. So, don't miss out on any opportunity to play with them, get them giggling and tiring them out. It's great for them and their parents.
3. As they grow up, be a mentor. Be involved in their development as much as you can and always be encouraging and interested. This will build their trust, respect and open channels of communication as they grow-up - something that's as valuable as anything you can think of as they develop into an adolescent and young adult.
4. Be adventurous (within reason!). With respect and advisement of the young one's parents, make sure that those occasions that you spend with your niece or nephew are marked by memorable and exciting adventures fueled by the youngster's interests.
These are just a few recommendations. Parents, uncles and aunts out there: What are your tips? I'd really love to hear them (and definitely can use them!).