On Sunday I woke up with a clogged nose, soggy head, and a cough that could have me mistaken for a Weddell seal. Wishing that a passing orca would wash me from my bed and eat me, I instead dragged myself out of bed and prepared myself for an AWESOME day.
Those aren’t sarcasticaps: I had agreed to take my niece out for a day at the AWESOME festival, a kind of arts festival-for-kids that happens annually in Perth. A few weeks ago my brother suggested that I should take advantage of the school holidays and be a Good Uncle and spend some time with my niece. The cynics among the readership will probably realise this for what it may well have been: alone time for Mum and Dad.
I was a little intimidated by this idea as the niece in question is five five-and-three-quarters, and I’d never had any occasion to deal with her on a one-on-one basis in her entire life. The concept seemed weird: I’m barely responsible for my own actions, and I’m supposed to censure or encourage this tiny human’s every step for five hours? Thankfully Oma came to the rescue and promised to be our chaperon, saving me from:
a) having that awkward ‘Oh, no, I’m not the Father’ conversation with strangers,
b) somehow setting fire to her, or
c) feeling like a complete creep the entire time. 
The latter is a syndrome I’ve suffered from before, most recently at a water park visit driven by the nostalgia of my friends*. I’m sure that in real life parents don’t look at a guy in his late-twenties at a water park without a child and start muttering a mantra of ‘pedo’, but in my head they sure as shit do.
Armed with Oma, niece, and sunglasses to ward off the technicolour wasteland aftermath of mutually assured destruction between fairies and unicorns, I strode into the festival. Or strode-limped, as I was immediately anchored by the tiny, but firm, grip of my niece. And it was at this point in the day that I realised two things:
1) My niece is gorgeous. If this sounds like the preening of a proud Uncle, then let me explain. My family isn’t a large one. In fact, prior to siblings finding partners and having kids, we were a party of four. So figuring out how to feel and interact with a family unit larger than what can fit comfortably in a Hyundai Excel has involved a pretty steep learning curve for me. Couple that with the fact that I ordinarily only see my niece at family dinners or her birthday parties. At the former she is tired and more than a little bit grumpy at being kept up past her bedtime, and at the latter she’s way more interested in her friends and omgsugar than saying hello to me. But on the day of the festival she was chatty and engaged and wanted to show me things and see the trolley dancers and play in mountains of technicoloured sand**. It was a side of her I hadn’t seen before, and she kind of charmed me right then and there. Also;
2) Kids stuff is really god damn fun.  I don’t mean in the sense that I had fun doing the activities, although I did with a couple of them. It was more that, well…hm. Let me put it this way: I’m the kind of person that finds it very easy to be a cynic about most things. Especially when kids are involved, given how much of an economy exists around them. Couple that with the fact that a lot of the time I find it difficult to engage with activites that are meant to be about enjoyment. The kind of thing that says ‘disengage your brain for a second and just go along with it’. But at the festival I got it. Not ‘got it’ in the sense that I jumped up and danced with the clowns at Cirque Disarray, or ran into the fountain at the waterworks. But seeing my niece’s unrelenting fascination with all things everywhere, I could at least remember that sense of…wonderment, I guess? The feeling that it’s okay to be impressed or awed by something and not try and rationalise it in your mind, to just take it and run with it? Whatever that is, I got it.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I had a wonderful day with my niece and I hope we get to do it again sometime.
Phill English lives in Perth, WA. He works as an analytical scientist because he has a PHD. Like a proper one. He’s also the host of The Toothsoup Prize and maker of podcast Science Pod. You can find all these things and more over on his site. Or you can follow him on Twitter.
*It wasn’t as good as it was when we were kids. It never is.

**This was actually a really technical little project: a Kinect was suspended over a sandpit, sending real-time topographical data to a projector. So as kids dug, the sand got bluer, and if they built it up it went through to red. Very cool.

Further reading

December – home

I spent the first minutes of 2018 on the beach. I’ve never actually spent New Year