JOHNNY ROBINSON: Lessons and Inspiration From My Nieces and Nephews

Johnny R and a small portion of the nieces and nephews . . .

Ok, so I don’t have any grandchildren, even though I am certainly old enough to be a granddad. Perhaps before long I will reach that crazy milestone – but for now I can’t speak with any experience about grandkids. But nieces and nephews? That’s another story. I have sixteen of those rascals, and I recently spent a vacation week with seven of them. It was amazing and unforgettable.

I would like to say that my status with this part of the tribe is that I’m the “wise uncle forever dispensing insightful commentary and inspiration,” but that is laughably far from the actual experience. In fact, it could be argued that it’s the other way around; my nieces and nephews who range in age from 7 to 26 constantly show me what’s possible and “how it’s done.”

The teenagers can, of course, be exasperating to their parents and vice versa, but my wife and I, in our roles as aunt and uncle, are safely above the fray in that regard. Since we know that the teenagers in question “will turn out just fine” (they are perfectly polite dears to us) we can relax and enjoy conversing with them like they are normal adults.

After all, our three sons, who are older than the crew in question, have grown up fine in spite of their parents not knowing what they were doing in the child raising years; i.e. the boys moved steadfastly beyond that period in which they seemed to be the laziest people in the world.

So…my wife and I have the utmost confidence in our nieces and nephews becoming not only productive members of society but fine citizens. Their parents, however, are not so sure about that and therefore feel they have to keep their guard up. But Uncle Johnny? Nah, the truth is he’s even been known to encourage a little (healthy) civil disobedience among the kids.

Recently we all took a hike together that took several hours on a gorgeous mountain trail. I was able to rearrange my position in the group as we went, in order to spend time with each one of the nieces and nephews in the lineup. One-on-one time, or at least pseudo-solo time, is priceless; it can open our eyes in mutual insight and respect into what makes each of us tick.

My biggest revelation concerning this group is how perceptive, insightful, and incisive they can be – even from a very young age. To a large degree they can relate to me on an equal basis in regard to intellect, sense of humor, and wisdom; that in spite of my ‘advantage’ over them of having multiple decades of life experience. I mean, how can they be so world-wise at such a young age? Well, I certainly don’t know but I do know that it’s a delight. And they constantly make me think.

We were skiing one day, and 16-year-old Franklin asked me, pointing to the machinery overhead as we boarded the chairlift, “How does all that work?” I had to admit to him that I hadn’t given it a lick of thought. We did figure out together however (with some help from the lift attendants) how the cleverly-designed ‘bull wheel’ disengages the chairs so they slow down momentarily, allowing the skiers to both board and disembark slowly, while the cable continues its consistent high speed, and so on. Please keep me thinking, kids!

It’s fun noting the family resemblance of the nieces and nephews, to see shining through those distinctive characteristics with which they’re imbued. I’m delighted to see the positive temperament of a parent present itself in the next generation, or the calm quiet of an aunt, or the understated dry wit of another uncle.

On the other hand, there’s no uncertainty over the fact that each of those nieces and nephews is an independent spirit practically bursting out of any paddock of preconceived notions into which we might have been unwittingly or otherwise corralling them!

In regard again to the pleasant disconnect of child-rearing responsibilities, the relationships with nieces and nephews is similar to those with grandchildren. However, there’s one significant difference. The nieces and nephews are much closer to one’s own age, and this affords special opportunities for, not only hilarity, but positive influence as well.

So if you’ve got a crop of nieces and nephews, I say enjoy them with abandon – and keep in touch with them wherever they may roam so that you and they can benefit from the special relationship you share.

Johnny Robinson