June 19, 2024 at 12:00 a.m.

Young niece provided a reminder

Back in the Saddle


Editor’s note: This column is being reprinted from June 16, 2004. It ran just a couple of weeks after Jack’s youngest daughter, Sally, graduated from Jay County High School. His older daughters — twins Maggie and Emily — were already five years out of college by that point. It’s a quip about that age gap that sparked the idea for this piece.


It’s a standing joke at our house that we had our third child because we’d forgotten how much work the first two were.

Anyone in need of a reminder should have a 2-year-old visit for a couple of days.

Actually, our niece is two-and-a-half. And she probably wasn’t any more trouble than any other toddler on earth. It’s possible that she was even exemplary.

But she was a convincing reminder of this simple truth: Kids are work.

She and her mother, Connie’s sister, arrived on Wednesday, a day later than they had originally planned. (When you’re traveling with a child of that age, it’s usually good to have flexible travel arrangements. You never know when you’re going to be delayed or when you need to “get out of Dodge” faster than expected.)

We’d been planning for the visit, but I can’t say that the house was child-proofed. It was still possible to get to the knife drawer, and the Drano hadn’t been moved to the highest shelf.

Instead, we figured we’d make up for the lack of precautions with an abundance of oversight. Most of that was to come from Sally, who was drafted into child-care duty immediately.

Fortunately — or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it — we still have plenty of toys in the house from when our own children were little, so there was an abundance of junk to play with.

In next to no time, a house that had been cleaned within an inch of its life for the previous weekend’s graduation party looked like a daycare center without a housekeeping service.

A toddler-sized table and chair that we bought from Quentin and Libby Imel 25 years ago was placed in the family room, along with enough Fisher-Price cooking toys to launch a show on the Food Network. There was a toy blender along with a toy cooktop and countless plates, bowls, pots, and pans.

Also unearthed was a box of something called “Popoids.”

I don’t know if “Popoids” are manufactured anymore. I doubt it. There’s not anything wrong with them, but their appeal is limited.

Essentially, “Popoids” boil down to a bunch of accordion-like tubes which connect to an assortment of odd plastic bits. Put them together and you can create something that looks like, well, like nothing else you’ve ever seen. Perhaps that’s what “Popoids” means in English: Weird stuff.

At any rate, toys were not enough.

They never are, as anyone whose memory of the toddler years has not failed them knows full well.

Soon it was time to roll out the videos.

Yes, I know it’s a sad commentary on our times that we stuck kids in front of the TV to watch “Animalympics” for the 8 zillionth time, but sometimes you just do what you have to do.

In our case, that meant far too many videotapes that hadn’t been watched in years were soon spread all over the family room floor. It looked as if there had been an explosion at Reels and Rays.

The toddler, discriminating viewer that she is, shuffled through the pile carefully. She liked the sound of “Chicken Run,” but soon found that it was far too sophisticated for her tastes.

Finally, she made her pick: “Dumbo.”

And so, for the next 48 hours, we watched “Dumbo” continuously.

That’s not true, of course. It only felt that way.

Now, I don’t know about you, but “Dumbo” has never been my favorite part of the Disney canon. I enjoy the crows singing that they’d never seen an elephant fly, and I wonder about the thinly-masked racial connotations of that whole sequence. But I’m not a big fan of the “pink elephants on parade” sequence.

It gave me nightmares when I was a toddler, and it threatens to give me nightmares now.

Especially after repeated viewings.

In the end, of course, neither toys nor videotapes proved to be enough amusement. There were far too many things to explore in a new house to settle for such boring stuff.

Within no time, we were wondering about the knife drawer and the Drano. And Sally found that she had to watch her little cousin like a hawk.

When she went to bed that last night of her visit, we felt as if it had been a success. She’d been fun. She’d been charming. And she had been a lot of work. But we had kept her amused.

PORTLAND WEATHER

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