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How I Poisoned my Nephew

I walked through a sudden downpour to pick up my 11-year-old nephew from middle school. He showed up with a backpack filled with the gross national product of information he had to learn that night and his saxophone.

“What a great day!” he said as the sun coordinated its shine with his exit from school.

He said he was hungry and was in the mood for shrimp, which was all the encouragement I needed to test a recipe.

This is a boy who likes to eat and is always hungry and loves to cook. Yet he suggested we relax in the living room and talk about his day before we prepared the snack. My guard was up. Talk before food? For a middle-school boy? What was going on? Bullying, incompetence, a new love?

In math they learned about finding the volume of quadrilaterals. I asked if he knew the formulas, which kept him from quizzing me on what I remembered. He rattled off base times height and mentioned something about dividing by two for triangles. I dubbed him correct and really think he was.

He discussed the essay he was writing in English class. An opinionated piece on his views of social media. I asked about his slant and his thesis, neither of which he could remember, but he thought he was going to write about how detrimental social media was towards learning. I asked if he wanted to know my views on the subject, as fodder for his essay--to give him more ideas. He didn’t.

I was about to ask if there was something more serious he wanted to talk about when he announced it was time to cook.

He loves to cut garlic. He likes to score the garlic in one direction, then slices it in another. Next he rubs it around with his hands to break up the bits that weren’t cut all the way before he chops-to-kill. In the end the garlic was evenly diced and his hands would carry the smell of garlic until he graduated high school.

We simmered the garlic in oil, added lemon juice and spices, and then dropped the shrimp to the bubbling mess. After stirring it for a few minutes, this nephew-of-mine thought he should practice his saxophone before he ate. This was warning number two: he would rather do anything than eat shrimp, but I ignored this sign because I was sulking at having to wait. The shrimp was---ready.

I sat in the recliner and watched his struggle. The sounds coming from his instrument held my full attention, which made him think I was either deprived or entertained. This was the first time I heard a new player practice. Who knew a saxophone could go from a rich, dark tone to a squeak, then jump an octave?

Right when I thought it was time to eat, he suggested we listen to the songs on YouTube, as a bridge to his band concert in a few weeks. Yes, sigh, another delay. Each song he was practicing was represented in the mix of videos, a middle school boy playing the piece he was working on; a high school band playing the Adele song which he warned probably sounded better than his middle school band would sound.

While he surfed the internet for the next song, I snuck shrimp. Spicy. Garlicky. A hint of lemon. Shrimp perfection. I snuck another sample, then another. I live alone and don’t normally have to sneak food, but I didn’t want to interrupt his practice. This recipe was easily repeatable. Worthy. I had a plan for brunch.

He called me back to the living room so I could hear more songs. (Isn’t it time to eat?) Then he practiced some more. (Isn’t it time to eat?) Finally, 30 minutes after the shrimp was ready, he said it was time to eat.

That was his snack, Cajun shrimp and a chocolate Paleo Popsicle to match his new eating plan. Shame I didn’t add any vegetables to the mix, I could have. It would read so much better if I were feeding the boy sauteed greens and kale chips or something.

His father picked him up an hour later and he was fine. The moment he got home, he wilted, fast.

He was weak and pale and groaning about his stomach. He conned my sister to lay in bed with him, something this boy rarely does. He slept heavily while she listened to his stomach gurgling and texted me.

“No more shrimp for Hunter.”

I texted back. “Sorry if he didn’t want dinner. Hey, at least it was paleo!”

“He’s sick. Sleeping. Pale. If he pukes in my bed….”

I was confused. “Why is he in your bed?” I have no children; there’s so much I don’t know about raising them.

“This is where he wanted to be.”

He’s such a smart kid. Vomit in your parent's bed, then retire to your own clean bed to sleep it off. Brilliant plan!

She lay next to him for hours, claiming that she wanted to be sure he was OK, but I think she might have been holding the vomit pan under his chin.

It’s not easy being an aunt, constantly guessing at what’s right to do without the years of practice parents have. Hunter likes to hang out with me even though he thinks I should add sugar to everything I feed him, should park closer to the doors we frequent and should buy the essentials like flavored iced teas and bouncy rubber balls.

After living in Denver for the past twenty years, I love living closer to family. Several months ago my sister texted me from Hunter's band concert, saying she forgot to invite me and that there would be an invitation for the next concert. I was dressed for my evening walk, many layers of mismatched fleece. I texted that I was on my way. She replied that it was too late... the music already started. I ran three blocks and arrived before the last song.

“What are you wearing?” she asked.

I thought of jogging home before my nephew saw me so I didn't embarrass him. Before I could decide, he ran to me and hugged me hard and thanked me over and over for the surprise arrival. He asked if I took any pictures.

Parenting might be a learning curve; so is being an aunt. According to my sister, Hunter woke after hours of sleeping last night and asked to eat dinner. But his stomach hurt too much. So he headed to bed hungry and achy. This morning he was mostly better, though slower.

I was going to call and ask my sister if she wanted the leftover shrimp that I'm no longer in the mood to eat. But I worried that if she had a sudden reaction I'd be jailed for poisoning two people in twenty-four hours. So the shrimp sits in my refrigerator.

How about you? Want shrimp?

Living the Life of Holly

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