I went over to my mom's today, my sister is in town with her sons, and her oldest was having his 5th birthday party. If there's anything that helps me get perspective, it's being around her boys. I don't have kids of my own and never will, for lots of reasons. But it's not just the kids, you see. A two year old and a five year old are easy. They don't care about my past. They don't care about my failures. They don't care about my future. They care that I bring them candy and toys, that I hug them and love them and play with them. They like me because, like all kids, they possess that creepy sixth sense. They somehow just know that I love them, that I'd die for them, that I'd protect them from anything and everything. They don't shy away from me, they gravitate. And it's totally no big deal for them, even though it's amazing to me. Last Christmas, my younger nephew was barely two. I'd only met him twice before, when he was a tiny baby and couldn't possibly remember me. He came right to me and was glued to me the whole time, and my sister and everyone else talked about how odd and unlike him that was. It didn't feel odd to me, it felt normal and right. That kid somehow knew how I loved him even though he didn't know me, and his simple response was to stay close. I love them both...I'll never forget babysitting the oldest when he was eight months old, and the only thing I could do to get him to stop crying was play Red Hot Chili Peppers and bounce him on my knee and sing to him. He stopped crying, listened, watched me...then cracked that toothless grin and started bouncing and jamming out. I'll never forget it. Life can really suck. But getting that first smile from that little dude...man, that's the good stuff.
Anyway, it's not just the kids. I'm a failed writer, a failed athlete, a failed student...I'm a failed a lot of things. My family knows all about how many times and how hard I've fallen, and even though they won't admit it, I can sense that they've given up on me. Not in a "hell with you" sort of way...they've just stopped expecting great things out of me. It's a relief and a letdown at the same time. But when I'm with my nephews, I get this sense from my mom and my sister. They're pleased and surprised at how good I am at being an uncle. It makes them happy. And let me tell you, it's been a long, long time since I've brought either of them any happiness.
The kids have shown me that I still have the ability to kick ass at something. They showed it to my mom and my sister, too. Just being around them has made me feel something again...something inside of me that I thought I'd thrown away or burned up like a cigarette. Turns out it was just buried very deep. I'm not useless. I'm not worthless. I can still be effortlessly good at something. And the fact that it turned up in such an unexpected place is encouraging. Makes me want to get out there and see just what else I don't suck at.