Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Newbies and the Original Three

Forgive me, but I'm going to sound like one of those boastful grandparents:

Have I ever told you about my nephews?  And my niece.

Yes, I have four nephews, and one niece.  And she's the fourth - not the fifth - child, as many people assume.

The three oldest nephews were born in Texas and Tennessee, and my niece and youngest nephew were born in Michigan.  But they haven't used their states of birth to differentiate themselves.  All five of them recently decided to call the oldest three "the Original Three," and the two youngest "the Newbies."

Isn't that a riot?  That's partly why I want you to know about my sibling's offspring.

My eldest nephew graduates from high school in a few months.  I can hardly believe it - and I'm just his uncle.  I think his parents are shocked that his graduation date is coming up so fast!  Fortunately, my youngest nephew is still in elementary school.  They all are involved in church and sports, and they all claim to be learning absolutely nothing in school.  Four of them may actually mean it, because since they're so popular, they're easily distracted.  The fifth one - my second-eldest nephew - probably means it because he's so smart, even his charter school's curriculum failed to keep him busy.  Indeed, that nephew recently wrote in a multi-page admissions essay to a college preparatory academy that he is a genius.

Of course, he's been telling us that for years.  And we believe him.

How smart is he?  Once, years ago, an elementary school teacher handed out sheets of paper with a photocopy of a house on it.  She asked the students to simply color in the house.  After a short while, my nephew turned his sheet back in to the teacher with not a crayon mark on it.  Puzzled, the teacher asked if he understood the assignment.

"Oh, yes, I understood the assignment," my precocious nephew affirmed, probably with one of his cute poker faces.  "I just wanted my house white."

When you ask him how he is, he replies "I'm well," instead of the grammatically incorrect "good."  He joined a robotics club at school filled mostly by upperclassmen, and when he decided to drop out because the upperclassmen didn't understand his suggestions for improving their projects, the club's sponsor asked him to stay on to help teach them.

My niece absolutely loves animals.  She can befriend just about anything with fur.  My middle nephew is a hockey phenom.  Scrappy, fearless, with a ridiculously high pain threshold and a list of broken bones to prove it, he's everything I'm not.

All of these kids have a genuinely funny sense of humor.  And they all get along well with each other, their occasional bickering notwithstanding.  Years ago, when it was just the Original Three, we were all together at my parents' summer home in Maine.  The Original Three were entertaining the rest of us with Knock-Knock jokes at the dinner table, and after a successful string of goofy jokes by my two eldest nephews, the then-youngest nephew wanted to try.  So he launched into his Knock-Knock joke and instantly froze when it came to who was supposed to be "there."

"Knock-knock,"he began.

"Who's there?" we asked him.

And his face suddenly blanked out.  His jaw automatically dropped, and his eyes went out of focus.  At that moment, he realized the virtue and purpose of Knock-Knock jokes.  You needed to have a funny sound or saying, and he didn't have anything!

"I don't know," he finally blurted, somewhat embarrassed.

Yet instead of ridiculing their little brother, the eldest two nephews laughed along with us adults at the pure cuteness of the moment.  Cute not because my youngest nephew couldn't come up with a Knock-Knock joke, but that we'd all witnessed an innocent learning moment for him.  What made it even more special was that he joined in the laughter, both relieved that we weren't making fun of him, and appreciating in his own childish way how Knock-Knock jokes really work.

It wasn't rocket science he mastered at that moment, but it was still a treasured memory for all of us.  To this day, even the Original Three, whenever that story comes up at family gatherings, laugh like we seasoned adults at the wholesomeness of it all.

And wholesomeness is pretty much how I'd describe these kids.  No, they're not perfect, but they're really turning out well.  Especially considering all of the pressures kids these days have to deal with.  Yes, they're all saved, and just last month, were all baptized in the same church service.

It's so easy to look around at other kids and worry about future generations and what our country will look like.  Thankfully, I know first-hand of at least five wonderful kids who will be an asset to our society.

And that's no joke!

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