Last week I was back in Nashville. And when in town I always make an effort to see my nephews and nieces, preferably when their parents are around. I don’t like being the only adult in charge, because I’m not always aware of what is permissible. For example, when playing wiffle ball with some of them in August, the conversation went like this:

Me: “Okay…I’ll pitch. Where’s home plate?”
Wilson: “Jackie is home plate.”
Me: “The dog? Or is Jackie also something you call a trashcan lid?”
I realized the answer as Stephen used a plastic bat to lightly tap the napping Labrador on the rump.
Me: “Okay then, strike zone is from the chest to the knees and from her snout to the end of the tail. Do over if she starts chasing rabbits in her dreams.”

When Nancy (my sister) found out, we had to quit in the fourth inning. Stephen and Wilson were kicking my ass, anyway, mainly because I kept forgetting which freshly-planted chrysanthemum bed was first base.

I was promptly banned from the house for the first time since babysitting back in 2001. That’s when I taught the kids that the kitchen faucet sprayer was basically a “water pistol for inside” and that Thomas the Train was a clever tool produced by the government to manipulate youth and parents alike. I lost them on the conspiracy theory because the boys were busy torturing their sisters with “the kitchen sink super soaker”.

As you can tell, I love unclehood dearly, but I am horrible at discipline. Here’s a sample conversation from a babysitting stint at my other sister Beth’s house:

Me: “Will, why are you feeding your sister Play-doh?”
Will: “I shaped it like spaghetti, and Kate loves spaghetti.”
Me: “Oh. …Well, okay then. I’ll be over here shooting hoops.”

Note: The best thing about shooting hoops at my sister’s house is their 6-foot goal. I’m a giant out there. And the inflatable Rocky Balboa punching bag is no match for my fast fists of drunken fury. Eye of the tiger, my ass! I explained to Will that this “Rocky” keeps popping up only if you choose not to punch with a steak knife.

I love spending time with my family, especially the kids. Even more so when there are other adults around. That’s why I jumped at an invitation to attend a school play that my nephew Will was going to be in. I of course committed to going, because that’s great material! I mean, uh, I want to show support for the little guy. The last time he hit the stage, he did so dressed as cauliflower. And when the broccoli girl wouldn’t dance with him at the “Great Salad Mixer”, my heart went out to him. I wanted to scream, “Ask the side of honey mustard! Her real-life mom is hot!” But that would have disrupted this great theatrical display.

I heard that this time Will secured a part in the school’s production of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Way to go, Will! Moving up the drama chain. First the vegetable salad party, then that fable with the moral about being good or something, and now a true classic. Next stop, Shakespeare in the park. Or even better…kung fu matinee!

I got to the school and immediately felt out of place. First, my white Saturn (dirtily colored beige) stuck out in the parking lot amidst the Lexuses and Hummers (or what I like to call “tanks with hubcaps”). Also, I was the youngest non-student there and the only one not setting up a camcorder near the back wall. A back wall that, by the way, was covered in macaroni art. I liked how the art projects were arranged much like a museum exhibit, complete with identifying index cards. For example, one said: “This hand-shaped turkey was made by Matt, 1st Grade, using magic marker and safety paste.”

Because it was set up like an art show, I felt compelled to act like a potential buyer. I politely viewed each piece and then suddenly shouted, “Hey! Is this a Matt Perkins original?! I haven’t seen the use of Crayola Washables like that since Joey Simpson riveted the kindergarten world of late 20th century Eakin Elementary! I can tell that he’s strongly influenced by both the latter stages of Dadaism as well as the early years of Spongebob Squarepants. What a remarkable hybrid of genres! Are there prints of his work in the gift shop?” The principal lady (who I think I’m older than) told me to pipe down and took away my complimentary graham crackers.

Yes, the day started on a bad foot, but I was indeed excited to be there. I was even more pumped when I read the program (construction paper with a rare but lovely crayon font). There I learned that my little buddy was playing the important role of…townsperson #3. Yeah, that’s right! Not just anyone can play that part! You have to get someone who knows how to say “All hail the king” in unison with two other townspeople. That’s talent you can’t teach, folks.

I’ve been in a couple of plays myself and I know how stressful it can be. But Will seemed at ease, and he rocked the place. All the students did a great job and looked completely comfortable on stage, totally oblivious to their teacher/director who was in the back corner popping Xanax.

Most importantly, the kids had fun with this production. And they learned a valuable lesson…if you don’t wear clothes, everyone will laugh at you, especially the broccoli girl who accidentally brought the wrong costume to school.

Afterwards, the audience was invited to eat lunch with the cast in the cafeteria. I of course accepted. A road comic treats a free lunch like a Senator treats a raise-I may not need it or deserve it, but as long as everyone is doing it…I’m in. And when the parents took a tour of the Matt Perkins exhibit in the back, I was in charge. “Hey, let’s play wiffle ball! Who wants to be home plate?”

Categories: Columns